The dream for a safe and adequate general aviation airport for this community has been the dream of many, many people, going back four decades.
Friday (tomorrow) is the big day when the new Cleveland Regional Jetport becomes a reality. The past few months have been busy at RZR. With our new 8,000-square-foot terminal building, new hangars, a new 5,500-foot runway and more, the airport is developing on a daily basis.
Located on Dry Valley Road in the Tasso community, the new Regional Jetport is poised to serve the needs of general and business aviation users. The economic impact this modern facility will have on our area will be remarkable.
When I was first elected mayor in 1991, I set several goals for the city. No. 1 on the list was a new airport, a Museum Center, Tree City and 3-Star Community designations, and updating our public transportation. These projects all became a reality because many dedicated citizens came forward and gave unselfishly of their time and talents to make them happen.
The final piece of the puzzle is the new Jetport we open this week. Thanks to the outstanding leadership of the Airport Authority, along with the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce and our city, state and national legislators, this project has evolved. When opened Friday, it will move us into a new level in aviation, becoming an historic chapter in Cleveland, Tennessee’s aviation story.
When the runways are officially in operation and the ribbon is cut on Friday, the public has an opportunity to see the airport and its beautiful, spacious terminal. Public tours will be given from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday. I encourage each of you to visit and see what a masterpiece has been created.
It’s a long-awaited dream for many people, dating back more than 40 years. Many of the people who first pushed for a new airport will be on hand to witness the event. Others, who have passed away, will be remembered this week as we realize their vision for a new airport.
Our Airport Authority has done an exemplary job of moving the project forward and making certain it gets off on the right foot as a first-class operation. They have not settled for anything less than the best, so that this city and county will benefit for years to come from their strategic planning. Thanks go to many, including Cleveland business leaders Allan Jones and Brenda Lawson who purchased property from willing sellers, making way for the new airport.
Some of the allies I had early on included former Bradley County Executive Eddie Cartwright who had a dream while he was Cleveland commissioner of Public Works. Ironically, Eddie and others were looking at nearly the same location where the airport is now built. Craig Bivens, and former City Commissioners Steve Ratterman, Zane Harris and the late Mel Bedwell were among those first supporters.
We received a tremendous amount of encouragement from state officials through the years including our previous governors and TDOT commissioners. One of them was Commissioner Bruce Saltsman who, during his tenure, made it a point to attend Tennessee Aeronautics meetings in Nashville where I and other Clevelanders would be present. I do recall two people, Steve Wright and former Chamber President Jerry Bohannon, attending with me. Both were faithful to attend meetings and help field questions to promote the importance, and value, of a good and safe airport.
In the beginning, one frequent argument was that many opponents wanted us to expand or repair Hardwick Field. At the request of the director of Tennessee Aeronautics, I was instructed to write a letter and ask if Hardwick could be expanded. His response would be “no” and the issue would be put to rest. It was made clear that a new airport was the only solution to what state officials termed “the unsafest airport in Tennessee.”
I can think of a few people who I wish had lived to see this day. They are George R. (Bobby) Taylor, Bill Lonas, Goldie Wattenbarger, Carl Rymer, J.C. Garrison and Walter Abel. All these men had strong convictions about the need for an airport and each of them encouraged me not to stop the efforts.
Thank you Airport Authority leaders, including Lynn DeVault, chair; Lou Patten, vice chair; board members Mike McCoy, Verrill Norwood and Leroy Rymer; and former member, Jim Sharp.
You made it happen! The dream has come true!