By the middle of October, there might be a new business at the Bartow Municipal Airport that could mean somewhere between 100 and 200 jobs within a few years.
That was the deal that was finalized between J. Phil McCoy and the Bartow Airport Authority Monday night. In finalizing a contract to sublease a building formerly housing Florida Aircraft Painting, McCoy is relocating Light Sport America from Tunisia to Bartow. If everything goes as planned the deal could close by mid-October.
The company would be in three buildings on 5.59 acres of land next door to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office facility. The company would build, sell and market light sport aircraft. They are used by private entities and public agencies such as sheriff’s offices and sell for about $115,000 each. The company would also sell kits from which people can build their own planes, though that would be a small part of the company.
The authority and McCoy negotiated a few sticking points in the contract Monday, and now it could take four to six weeks to close the deal.
“I sent all my documents to my lender and they got it last week,” McCoy said. “They promised me they’d have it in four to six weeks. I hope to close by the middle of October at the latest.”
In the deal, Florida Aircraft Painting, which filed for bankruptcy, would be bought by the McCoy Marketing and its owner, Jerry Butterworth, would be an employee of McCoy’s company. When that is done, the airport authority will allow Butterworth to break his lease early, turn over his deposit back to him and McCoy Marketing will give a $5,916 deposit to the airport authority and move in.
But what particularly interested the authority was the idea of the number of jobs this could bring to the area and that made the contract negotiation move quickly.
During negotiations Monday McCoy let the authority members know that reaching 200 employees would not be a far-fetched idea. And, he said last month, many of the jobs would come from this area.
“I’m sitting on 35 orders now and I haven’t set my salespeople loose yet,” McCoy said. “I’m waiting on a closing but I’ve got about $10 million in orders.”
Among the sticking points in the contract was the length of the deal. Light Sport America will start a new lease with an eight-year deal and pay $1,274 per month. Then, as it was written, there would be two 10-year options at the airport authority’s choice where it could deny renewing it. McCoy didn’t want the denial because he said he was looking for a permanent home.
“I don’t want to have to move. It’s like a mortgage and this would be my home,” he said. He said he wants a commitment from the airport that he won’t be threatened to be “kicked out after eight years.”
The authority agreed to that notion, but Member Leo Longworth said that because the authority has eminent domain on the land, “we can take it if we want it.”
Attorney Sean Parker and McCoy both agreed with that.
Another area where the authority helped the company was in an inspection process from the Environmental Protection Agency. Though the EPA inspected Butterworth’s business many times and never found a problem, a full inspection was never done and there is no benchmark. In the lease with Florida Aircraft Painting it would have to clean up any problems and there was some question how that would proceed with the new company.
Because there is no benchmark to act from, the authority agreed it would pay for a Phase I inspection, which could be a few thousand dollars, but if a problem was found the company would pay to clean it up. Members said because the site was a former military base and this company and the painting company — which Butterworth said never had a violation since it started there in 1999 — is prone to contamination and Phase I — an inspection — should be done.
“We’ve cut you some slack with us paying for it, but if something is found they pay for the cleanup,” Authority Chairman James Clements said.
Feeling comfortable that there would not be a problem, both McCoy and Butterworth agreed to that. McCoy had a letter from the lender showing the site was clean and he said he will take Butterworth’s history showing it.
“His word and EPA’s word is good enough for me,” he said.
Butterworth added how cautious he has been, too. “This was my investment and I don’t dump stuff into the sewer. We’re so conscious with our safety we don’t let workers on top of the ladder,” he said. “We’re in the kind of business where someone could get killed on this job.”