As worded by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland in his weekly column appearing on this page in today’s edition, the words “dream come true” fittingly come to mind.
A contemporary, and safe, aviation facility of this caliber has been a dream of many for decades — and not just locally, but regionally and statewide. It is a story the Cleveland Daily Banner has followed closely for the past 40 years, perhaps even longer. We remember well one of our first series of stories appearing in the late 1970s that warned of the inadequate, outdated design and multiple safety hazards of the existing Hardwick Field.
Other series followed, such as one in the 1980s, and later news articles and opinion pieces appeared regularly on our front page and the Editorial Page.
To their credit, local government leaders and aviation administrators — local and state — worked for years trying to modernize Hardwick Field, but only so much could be done on an airfield whose age, and dimensions, were its two worst enemies. Even former Gov. Don Sundquist called Cleveland’s struggling airport one of the least safe — perhaps even the most dangerous — in the state.
Finally, the Tennessee Department of Transportation intervened following correspondence from Rowland and specified that attempts to modernize Hardwick Field were no longer a viable option. It was either go long with a new airport or go home without.
Truly, Cleveland’s quest for a new airport has been a roller coaster ride. It has enjoyed the support of many who understand the importance of quick access and reliable transportation, and who also desired for Cleveland to minimize its reliance on nearby Chattanooga; too, it has endured opposition from various corners who believed in Bradley County’s agrarian roots and who were uncomfortable with using agricultural land for a contemporary airstrip.
Each side had its merits. All had legitimate points.
But Cleveland is a growing community. Its expansion has been coming since the 1980s and ’90s, but economic development locally has seemingly exploded over the past few years. Our growth has targeted the need for a general aviation facility that caters to the needs of a mid-sized market. Such a field includes a variety of major U.S. and global companies with a pronounced presence in Bradley County and Southeast Tennessee.
Our new Jetport’s 5,500-foot runway and the 8,000-square-foot terminal are indicative of the aviation needs of a blossoming community and a prospering economy.
Actually, the Jetport opens today, with the first incoming flight scheduled for midafternoon. We anxiously await the identity of these travelers, and their point of origin. Our newspaper will report on this historic arrival in Friday’s edition.
The Jetport’s opening ceremonies promise to be exciting. The by-invitation-only ceremony will kick off at 11 a.m. with entertainment by the Cleveland High School Band. The national anthem will be performed by young Quentin Scott of Blythe-Bower Elementary School. Guest speakers will include U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer, Tennessee Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell.
Public tours will be provided from 2 to 5 p.m.
Indeed, Friday will be a red-letter day for all of Cleveland and Bradley County. We will have more to say of the historic ceremonies later.
Until then, it’s wheels up for modern transportation within our hometown community ... to and from.