by Karen Brune Mathis
Jacksonville Aviation Authority Executive Director and CEO Steve Grossman plans to tell his board Monday that Arlington residents near JAA’s Craig Municipal Airport have a directive.
“Don’t do anything,” he summarized Thursday night after a packed, impassioned town hall meeting at the Police Athletic League building at Ed Austin Regional Park.
“The message from this community is loud and clear,” he said after a two-hour meeting with about 150 residents.
The meeting’s stated issue was a proposed name change to the reliever airport, but citizens also said they believed the rebranding might be a method for eventual runway extension.
Grossman, on the job just 16 months, was invited by area City Council members to meet with residents, who’ve been fighting a feared extension of Craig Municipal Airport’s two 4,000-foot runways, citing safety and noise issues, for more than 30 years.
“There are allusions that this is a plot to extend the runway. I understand the fear,” said Grossman. “But this is not a plot to get us there.”
Thursday night, residents spoke loudly against the authority’s proposal to rename the airport as Jacksonville Executive Airport, saying it disrespected airport namesake James Craig, a World War II naval aviator who died at Pearl Harbor.
Grossman assured the outspoken crowd that the Craig name would remain in some form.
Also as part of the proposed rebranding, Cecil Field will become Cecil Airport and Herlong Airport will become Herlong Recreational Airport, while Jacksonville International Airport retains its name.
In response to questions, Grossman said the authority paid $40,000 to a Birmingham group that created the branding campaign and that it would cost about $200,000 to complete the process.
Both responses elicited crowd comments.
District 2 Council member Bill Bishop hosted the meeting, with District 1 Council member Clay Yarborough and At-Large Group 2 member John Crescimbeni also in attendance.
An animated Jim Tullis, a former District 2 council member, related the history of residents’ fights with the JAA as well as the Jacksonville Port Authority, which controlled the airports before the 2001 creation of the aviation authority.
Tullis traced the genesis of the issue back to 1972 and spoke on behalf of the citizens. “We are fed up with it,” he said. “We want the airport to stay as it is.”
Bishop said the citizens have “had it” and told Grossman they wanted codified language that the JAA would “just leave it alone.”
Grossman will take the information to the board. “We’ll talk about it Monday.”