Jeffersonville mayor sees airport as opportunity

Jeffersonville could benefit from air hub

By Ashley Bunton -

It’s a village that intersects at State Route 41 and 729 in Fayette County, but Jeffersonville is also known for being at the intersection of Interstate 71 and US 35.

This intersection has attracted the attention of state lawmakers, who have put together a tentative idea to build an airport with high speed passenger rail transportation in and out of Jeffersonville.

As it currently sits, the bill is still being reviewed by legislative committees and has not been introduced for discussion or vote.

The bill, if adopted and passed into law, could put an airport in Jeffersonville comparable in size to airports in Boston, Dallas Fort-Worth and Denver, according to a media release from state representatives working on the plan.

A site for the proposed air hub has not been decided.

The new air park wouldn’t be the only international airport in the area. From the Fayette County mega-site adjacent to Interstate 71, a smattering of international airports are located within an hour’s drive, though one doesn’t have international passenger flights: John Glenn Columbus International Airport, Rickenbacker International, Dayton International Airport and Wilmington Air Park, the only one not flying commercial passengers.

Building a new airport in Jeffersonville would create the Southern Ohio Airport Authority to manage the airport, according to the text of the bill currently being reviewed. State lawmakers working on the plan, Bill Dean (R-Xenia) and Jim Butler (R-Oakwood), said the major airport would attract businesses and corporations to southwest Ohio.

The bill states the airport would be located in the vicinity of the Interstate 71 and 35 interchange, about 40 minutes southwest of Columbus.

This interchange includes the Tanger Outlet Mall, a strip of eateries including McDonald’s, Long John Silver’s, Starbucks, Subway, Chipotle, Bob Evans, and a couple of hotels. Just north of the mall, the county owns a nearly 1,700-acre parcel of land adjacent to Interstate 71.

Fayette County officials have been working for decades to develop the empty parcel for industrial use. So far there are no bidders on the property.

The mall area near I-71 is commonly referred to by Fayette County residents as “Old 35.” There is no housing in this area of “Old 35” except for the hotels. Downtown Jeffersonville, at State Route 41 and 729, is a 10-minute drive from Old 35. The houses there are modest and children play on well-manicured lawns, but to get there requires a drive up Interstate 71 to the next exit.

The two separate areas of Jeffersonville — the commercial complexes of Old 35 and the downtown village on Route 41 — are unattached and approximately six miles apart. There is no public transportation system, bike trail or sidewalk that connects the village to Old 35.

Unlike the area of Jeffersonville at Interstate 71, the pre-modern downtown Jeffersonville lacks the commercial properties with towering, well-lighted signs and instead offers a boastful glance of village life.

This is a 25 mile-per-hour area where Route 41 becomes Main Street. Route 729 becomes North Street. There is no stop light.

Granny’s Crafts store and Robin’s Nest floral store are near the corner and there isn’t a lot of traffic. From the four directions in the center of downtown Jeffersonville, the historic storefronts — their original wood awnings still resembling one another in some by-gone era — sprawl to the edge of the village’s Main Street sidewalk.

Along one block of Main Street, all of the businesses have shuttered except Don and Marty’s Pizza restaurant on the corner. The last store to close, according to locals in the area, was Cline’s Hardware. With only the locals to remember what was once there, the still frames that held the signs are now hollow and swing empty in the wind.

Across the street, a bar and another pizza shop open for business in the afternoon. A cafe is open five days a week until 2 p.m. but locals said a pizza place, the video store, a bank, guitar shop and the gym have all closed along Main Street.

“You can really tell the decline in the last 20 years,” said mayor Bob Kinzer. “A lot of the buildings are owned by the village’s elderly residents who don’t know what to do with the spaces.”

More than a quarter of the Fayette County’s residents are seniors, and according to Kinzer, about 40 percent of Jeffersonville residents are elderly.

Kinzer said the village is interested in working with property owners to re-open the vacant buildings downtown. In the county, residents have expressed concern that there’s a deficit in the county’s leadership that prevents economic progress. Some said it’s hard for locals to get things going economically.

Now village locals like Bob Kinzer are hoping the new state plan to build the airport in Jeffersonville will help to change the economy in the area.

He said he supports the airport plan 100 percent, though he’d only learned of it the day the information was released by state lawmakers to the public. After hearing about the proposal in the news, Kinzer contacted Fayette County officials, who were not aware Jeffersonville had been chosen for the development plans, either.

The development of the airport could link residents in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus by high speed rail transportation centers to Jeffersonville. Plans to finance, construct and manage the airport would be released later, if the bill becomes formally introduced, voted upon by the state House and Senate, and signed into law.

After discussions about the preliminary idea with Fayette County officials last week, Kinzer said he liked the airport idea.

“It couldn’t hurt,” said Kinzer.

Because there’s no public transportation between the two separate areas of Jeffersonville — “Old 35” near US 71 and downtown Jeffersonville —Kinzer said that doesn’t mean it can’t be built.

He sees the new airport as an opportunity to bring the community together.

“If this (air hub) would go in, it would be an opportunity to get a bus service,” said Kinzer.
Jeffersonville could benefit from air hub

By Ashley Bunton

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by searching for @ashbunton

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by searching for @ashbunton