A predicted ice storm that never materialized prompted schools to close Friday and some businesses to delay opening, but it did not stop the grand opening of Cleveland Regional Jetport.
The Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority moved the ceremonial ribbon cutting inside the community hangar and shortened the length of the event, but the weather was only a small inconvenience.
CMAA Chairwoman Lynn DeVault told a quick history of Hardwick Field during her opening remarks as the master of ceremonies.
She said the original airport was a grassy field owned by the Church of God of Prophecy. The church flew white airplanes from Cleveland to mission fields throughout the Appalachians.
“Voice of Evangelism will have a hangar complex here and continue their mission work as Dr. Perry Stone flies around the country,” she said.
DeVault introduced Airport Authority members Jim Sharp, LeRoy Rymer, Mike McCoy, Lou Patten and Verrill Norwood.
“Jim Sharp was the only man who was smart enough to take a limited assignment. He was on our first authority and he was the only one who is not a member now. He took on the job of acquiring all of this property.
“If anybody in this community remembers why we didn’t have an airport in the last 40 years, it was because we haven’t been able to buy property. It took Jim about two years to buy the property,” she said.
“If it hadn’t been for Jim, we wouldn’t be standing here today.
“Mike McCoy is our historian. Mike served as chair of the airport commission. I’m sorry Mike, that you didn’t get the job done, but you carried over to encourage us and we appreciate the fact that you’ve been with us from the beginning.
“I’ll tell you what LeRoy Rymer has done, and I expect to get a rebate from our engineering firm over the work he has done,” DeVault continued.
“He has effectively laid out this entire airfield; where the hangars are going, where the concrete is going, where everybody’s going. The north end is done and we’re now starting on the south end. He also happens to be a very business-minded person because he once ran an FBO (Fixed-Base Operator) so he understands the business aspect of this airport.
“When Jim went off the Airport Authority, there were some political types who thought it might be fun to do this, but I said I needed Verrill Norwood. Verrill was the only man I knew of who ever moved a river a mile from its natural bank. Verrill has done a lot of the not very glamorous work.
“I was told there was one important committee I had to put together and that was the Terminal Design Committee,” she said.
Questioning why that committee was so important, she asked Patten to take it over.
“If you toured the terminal on your way over here, I’m sure you will figure out why the terminal design committee was so important.”
Phillip Braden, DeVault said, is the man with the money from the Federal Aviation Administration.
On behalf of the FAA, Southern Regional Airports Division, Braden offered his appreciation for such a major accomplishment. There are 25 proposed airports to open between 2013 and 2017, including Cleveland Regional Jetport.
“It’s not everyday new airports come into existence, especially a facility as beautiful as this. It has taken the combined efforts of many people working step-by-step with federal and state governments to make this dream a reality and I can say without a doubt, it has not come easy,” he said.
He said airports are necessary for emergency response, access to isolated communities, tourism and special events.
“Cleveland Regional Jetport joins the family of over 3,000 general aviation airports across this country,” he concluded.
Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer jokingly reminded Braden not to take all the credit because not all of the money came from the federal government.
He said part of the money came from the Tennessee Equity, which is revenue generated from a tax on aviation fuel. The fund is dedicated only for aviation.
“This is a beautiful facility. We’ve had lots of conversation about it,” he said. “Without the Equity Fund, this would not have been built. This will do so much for Cleveland and the surrounding area.
“This is the third airport Tennessee has started in the last 30 years,” he said.
Lt. Gov. and former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said the airport is the next step in helping Cleveland grow and have more opportunities.
“The governor’s goal is to bring about an atmosphere in this state that helps bring prosperity. The government doesn’t create jobs. You create jobs. Our job is to try to get the atmosphere right for you to grow and prosper,” he said.
Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell said the terminal building is something usually seen in national architectural magazines.
“This is a beautiful facility,” she said. “This has been a dream long in coming and today is the fulfillment of it.”
Patten said he was proud to see all of the friendly faces at the ceremony. It wasn’t always like that during public hearings in 2006 when they began building the airport.
“I remember one meeting at the YMCA where there were about 100 people and I was the only one in favor of an airport,” he said.
He thanked Nancy Casson, Barbara Baxter, Sandra Rowland, Bill Burch and Chuck Jabaley, who were all on the terminal design committee. In addition, Casson, Rowland, Baxter, Gloria Malone, Mark and Jennifer Fidler, Steve Hixson and Toby Pendergrass all served on the grand-opening committee.
Patten also made a special presentation to Allan Jones and Brenda Lawson. Lawson was absent due to the flu.
“We honor Brenda and Allan for their vision and foresight in ensuring Cleveland has a modern airport that will serve the needs of our community for future generations. They dared step up when the plan of a new airport was only an idea. We are eternally grateful for their leadership and generosity,” Patten said.
“They stepped up when it was just a dream and didn’t have all of the land secured. Jim was working on that, but we weren’t sure we were going to put all of the parcels together in order to build this facility.
“Allan and Brenda stepped up and bought some of the land so we wouldn’t be in a bind when we put all of the parcels together. Without them doing so, we wouldn’t have this facility.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said, “For me, this is like Christmastime.”
About 400 invited guests included Lt. Gov. Claude Ramsey, Tennessee Department of Transportation Secretary John Schroer, Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell, State Rep. Kevin Brooks, 3rd Congressional District Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and 4th Congressional District Rep. Scott DeJarlais, State Sens. Mike Bell and Todd Gardenhire.
Evangelist Perry Stone offered the invocation to start the event.
“This will be an airport I will be flying in and out of several times a week. We definitely want to pray a really good prayer,” he said.
Stone left the ceremony early to fly out of Hardwick Field to Virginia Beach.
He expressed thanks “for the leadership that put this wonderful facility together for business and commerce, ministry and guests, and all of the activity that will be taking place.”