A public hearing Wednesday on whether it’s a good idea for Hartford’s Brainard Airport to remain open turned into a heated debate as to what benefit the city of Hartford and its residents receive from its continued operation.
The Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee heard testimony from, among others, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and a state representative from the city, that Hartford would be far better off if the airport was shut down and the land was developed and put on the city tax rolls.
Bronin told the committee that “51 percent of our property is non taxable — and our capital city is land and growth constrained.”
The mayor said the city of Hartford reaps little benefit from the “hundreds of acres of prime land with proximity to two major highways” that is where Brainard airport sits.
“I asked this group to spend a significant amount of time considering the alternatives to an airport for this very, very valuable piece of real estate,” Bronin said. “The city of Hartford faces some grave fiscal challenges and doing the right thing with this land, which sits next to the highways and the Connecticut River would be the right thing to do.”
The Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee held the hearing to review a draft of the report, which is expected to be completed in October.
Bronin’s plea for the committee to push for closure of the airport — and sale of the land — was supported by Rep. Angel Arce, D-Hartford, who said the airport and the vocational school at the airport, which has suspended enrollment, “were of no benefit to the people of Hartford.”
“There is plenty of land at that airport that doesn’t pay a penny of tax to the city of Hartford,” Arce said. “People in Hartford need homes, need jobs — just like the people from the suburbs who work and fly into and out of the airport every day.”
The Brainard Airport study was pitched by the staff of the Program Review and Investigations Committee and approved by the committee.
Janelle Stevens, principal analyst of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, told the committee it was too early to make a final recommendation on the best use of the airport property. She said that “our goal is to produce that final recommendation by October.”
Wednesday’s public hearing was an effort to gather more information about the airport.
While Bronin and Arce asked legislators to shut down the airport, allowing the airport to stay open also had plenty of supporters at the public hearing.
Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said the airport had a “lot more aviation potential” than has been realized and that the legislature needed to give the airport authority more time than the three years it has had operating it to have the airport realize its full revenue potential.
And Robert Morande, principal owner of Hartford Jet Center, which operates out of Brainard, said it would be “short-sighted” to close the airport.
“It baffles my mind that we are even talking about this,” Morande said. “This airport and the vocational school at the airport has created hundreds of jobs — six figure jobs.”
The study, requested by the legislature, charged the committee with assessing the site’s value to the host municipality, region and the state, including an examination of the site’s current use as an airport.
The study is supposed to assess the airport’s operations, governance, and business volume. It will also discuss and explore other uses of the site that have been previously proposed.
The state owns the 201 acres in Hartford’s southeast quadrant along the Connecticut River, as well as Brainard Airport currently located there. The original site of the airport, first named “Brainard Field” in 1921 and owned by the city of Hartford, was north of its current location.
The city acquired additional land for the airport until it encompassed about 351 acres. The state purchased the current site and airport from Hartford in 1959 when the Hartford city council voted for closure; the remainder of the airport property was developed for industrial/commercial use.
Brainard Airport offers charter flights, flight instruction, and private aircraft basing. The airport is also the site of a state post-secondary vocational school of aircraft mechanic instruction and a base for certain State Police operations.