One of the worst airports in the state is replaced by one of the most technologically advanced airports that meets all Federal Aviation Administration safety standards.
“Everything out here meets or exceeds federal standards,” said airport design engineer Mark Paslick, of Franklin. “It is the first LED airport. When the lights are on, they’re operating at 10 percent.”
It is one of the most environmentally friendly airports and it has a concrete runway that will last about 50 years. Runways are almost always asphalt, he said.
“And to have that in one of the communities identified by the Wall Street Journal as one of the fastest growing areas in the United States — where else would you put a brand new airport,” he said.
“What I’ve always loved about Cleveland is it has all of this industry, but if you go downtown, you feel like you’re in a small town. That’s what attracts people to Cleveland.
“I’ve built several airports, but I’m most proud of this one because of all the things we were able to do for the community,” he said.
But, it has also taken longer and Cleveland Regional Jetport was the hardest to build.
“It feels like forever,” Paslick said. “I think I’ve been working on this between 22 and 24 years, that I’ve been working on this airport. The first time I visited Cleveland was about 24 years ago.”
Paslick graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1984. He started with HMB in 1988 and first came to look at the area in about 1990.
“That’s when George Wood was city manager. The company I used to work for, HMB, did a site selection study,” Paslick said. “George Wood said, ‘We’re going to be transparent. We’re going to have everything out there in the open.’”
Paslick’s response was, “You’re going to take a beating being as transparent as you want to be.
“He said, ‘That’s how we’re going to do it.’
“We did that. We were transparent and we took a beating.”
And, the original study group took a beating. That site selection committee included Craig Bivens, Kristen Reese and Steve Ratterman. Three city managers, George Wood, Joe Cate and Janice Casteel have all worked toward building the airport.
“They went through a lot. They went through hard public hearings that failed. It failed because we weren’t able to get the land,” he said. That effort ended after about two or three years and there was no more mention of an airport. “Then Joe came on, I’m sure he’d heard all of the stories and yet he was willing to try and do it again.
“When Joe Cate became city manager, we would look at different sites. I continued to look at them to see if they were going to work. Then Allan called me up and we had a meeting. After that meeting, he brought some people together.”
The first goal was to expand Hardwick Field, if possible. None of the expansion options were feasible. Also at about that time, he said Jim Sharp worked on acquiring property. It took about two years to put the different parcels together.
“Once we had the property and we knew we could move over to this site, it went pretty well,” he said. “But, having the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority was huge. Once we had the Authority driving the airport, things went a lot faster.”
Ironically, a site selection study “a long, long time ago that was done by the state had this area right here as the site. When I did mine, we ended up at the very same site we started at in the beginning. It’s pretty amazing it turned out this way. It’s a beautiful facility.
“It’s amazing to come out here and see planes landing in Cleveland,” he said. “And, it’s a multiple award winner. We’ve done an incredible job out here improving the environment with the help of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.”
The airport won a conservation award and a national transportation award.
He said an impaired stream that was listed on the 303.d list of polluted steams is now clean. The steam remains on the list because it is in an urban area.
“If you look at the tributary that we have, it’s a marvel. When we first started, it was a ditch. Now it’s a stream and it’s teeming with life,” he said. “We replaced a road that had two turns that were over 90-degree. We replaced a 75-year-old waterline to a community. We replaced a bridge that was going to be repaired by the local community at a cost of about $400,000. It has been more than just an airport. It has been a real community asset. That’s why I’m really proud of it. None of the other airports I’ve worked on has had as many community projects as this one has had,” he said.