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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2004

Port denied grant to aid Toledo-N.Y. air travel

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's bid for federal help to get air service started between Toledo Express Airport and New York City has foundered.

Toledo was not among 46 cities for which the U.S. Department of Transportation announced grants late Monday under its Small Community Air Service Development program for airports to secondary - and smaller - airports across the country.

The port authority, several other public agencies, and local media firms had pledged a combined $915,000 in cash and services in hopes of securing a $1 million federal grant to subsidize a proposed Delta Air Lines route between the local airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Port officials hoped such service would woo local travelers back from Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport.

"Obviously, we're disappointed because we felt we had a strong application that demonstrated widespread community support," Brian Schwartz, a port authority spokesman, said in a statement. "Business and civic leaders were excited by the prospect of direct New York service, and we'll continue to pursue it."

John Gibney, marketing director for the Regional Growth Partnership, and Wendy Gramza, executive vice president of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce, both described the grant application's failure as "unfortunate."

The growth partnership pledged $100,000 in cash to boost the proposal, while the chamber committed $90,000.

"The whole community was coming together on this, different private and public institutions joining hands in a collaborative effort," Mr. Gibney said. "Maybe we can try again in the next round."

Paul Toth, airport director for the port authority, said it was the agency's third straight unsuccessful application to the transportation department for Small Community funding.

Mr. Toth questioned the transportation department's decision to grant funds for possible service between South Bend, Ind., and Indianapolis, which he described as a "long-standing pipe dream," while rejecting a Toledo proposal that he said was "a solid case with an airline willing to fly it."

Mr. Toth said he believes an airline eventually will offer Toledo-New York service without government help, but obtaining a grant "would have jump-started it."

"We're going to keep fighting until we get something we think we deserve," Mr. Toth said.

The transportation department's public affairs office referred an inquiry yesterday about the grants to the Federal Aviation Administration's regional office in Chicago, which did not respond.

A transportation department report on the grants listed only the rationales for those that were approved. The South Bend grant was explained as providing "greater intrastate connectivity with air service to [the] state capital."

Other nearby cities receiving Small Community grants were Youngstown and Kalamazoo, Mich.

The $500,000 Kalamazoo grant will help that airport develop "service to its first major southern hub," the transportation department said, while no specific service was listed for the $250,000 Youngstown grant. Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport currently has only scheduled air charter service.

Overall, the transportation department allocated nearly $22 million among the 46 approved applications.

Six of the grants came from unused fiscal 2003 funds; the legislation establishing the program sets a maximum of 40 Small Community grants per fiscal year.

"This year's grant selections include communities of different sizes, with different levels of service, in various regions of the country, and will permit us to examine further the benefits of marketing across this broad spectrum of small communities," the transportation department report said.

Grant recipients range in size from Alpena, Mich., and North Platte, Neb., to Richmond, Va., and Syracuse, N.Y.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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