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HIA tests hosting events for outreach, not finances

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Travelers pass the ticket counter at Harrisburg international Airport. In February, the main terminal’s ticketing area, baggage claim and sky bridge will be the setting for a Hollywood-themed fundraiser to benefit the Cultural Enrichment Fund.
Travelers pass the ticket counter at Harrisburg international Airport. In February, the main terminal’s ticketing area, baggage claim and sky bridge will be the setting for a Hollywood-themed fundraiser to benefit the Cultural Enrichment Fund. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

February brings more cold weather, and many people look forward to other, warmer destinations, even if Central Pennsylvania is still icy. That's potential customers for airports.

"Other ... destinations" are the operative words when you consider Harrisburg International Airport will host its first event in February. The Dauphin County airport's main terminal area will be the setting for the Feb. 22 "Red Carpet Soirée" to benefit the Cultural Enrichment Fund, a nonprofit supporting the arts in the midstate.

HIA's management is not looking to get into the event business full-time nor to pad operational revenue with a large influx of cash, said Scott Miller, deputy director of marketing and public relations for HIA and its operator, Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority.

The best benefit for the airport could be public outreach, he said.

After years of requests for HIA to host events at the terminal in Lower Swatara Township, airport management decided to test this idea's viability.

"We've had calls before," Miller said. "We just didn't have the space to do it."

However, under the right circumstances events are an option now, he said. For the soirée, part of the ticket counter and baggage claim areas will be used. The soirée also is planned for Saturday evening, which is one of HIA's slowest traffic times, he said.

"What we learn from this event we'll be able to use to determine whether this works and how we can do it better next time," Miller said.

The stars are aligning on the Cultural Enrichment Fund's end of this event.

"We're expecting the event to sell out," said Chad E. Barger, CEF's executive director.

After six years in existence, CEF was ready to do a signature event to help raise money to support the arts in Central Pennsylvania, he said. But as discussions progressed, it was agreed the event had to be unique.

"People said they didn't want to go to a hotel ballroom," Barger said. "Everyone does that."

CEF is expecting about 200 people at the event and has garnered sponsorship from midstate companies PNC Bank, Questmont Strategic Wealth Advisors, Highmark Blue Shield, Members 1st Federal Credit Union, law firm Rhoads & Sinon, Capital BlueCross, and law firm Capozzi Adler.

"It's been well-received by the business community," Barger said.

The event could help CEF top off its fundraising campaign for this fiscal year, which ends on March 31, he said. Last year, it raised $525,000 to benefit the arts in the midstate, and the organization would like to surpass that this year, he said. The event could be the icing on the cake.

"We're sticking our toe in the water and trying it," Barger said. If the event is successful, it could become annual. The challenge: one-upping this year's event in 2015, he said.

An event at an airport presents a unique opportunity for its planners, JDK Group, but that's the way they like it, said David Everett, senior event and wedding producer for the Cumberland County-based events company.

"We don't look at events — even the space at an airport — as a challenge," he said. "We look at it as an opportunity to do something better."

There will be security measures as with any airport, Everett said. But that just means JDK's staff has to meet the schedules for CEF and the airport to make things work smoothly.

From the food and drink to the Hollywood "red carpet" treatment — Everett kept the specific secrets close to the vest — the event will be memorable, he said.

"There are still some little surprises up our sleeves," he said.

For HIA, hosting the event is a novel way to get people into the airport and to be a participant in the greater cultural development of the midstate community, Miller said.

"We think there's an opportunity to do events," he said, "but we're not going to make tons and tons of money."

The bulk of HIA's revenue comes from landing and other fees associated with the airlines' use of the facilities for passenger and cargo flights. That means ancillary business, such as hosting an event, is a small fraction of income, he said.

However, bringing people to the airport could be beneficial for its business in the long-term.

"Any time we can get someone into the building to see how convenient it is, that's a win," Miller said.

Airport KOZ sites primed for reuse

It’s early yet for much to be happening with three vacant properties near Harrisburg International Airport, said Shaun Donovan, economic development specialist with the Capital Region Economic Development Corp.

CREDC, an arm of Harrisburg Regional Chamber, is tasked with marketing the airport locations that the state approved last month as Keystone Opportunity Zones. KOZ properties carry tax incentives for redevelopment and reuse.

“We’ll reach out to the airport to let them know about prospects,” Donovan said. “We’re looking for uses that might be aviation related.”

The three sites available for redevelopment in the KOZ:

• The 38-acre Bethlehem Steel property on the airport’s north side with Highspire was once part of the steel giant’s midstate factories but today is vacant land.

• The 21-acre old HIA terminal building and parking lot is being demolished after sitting vacant since the new terminal was completed in 2004. Demolition work began in December.

• The Crawford Station property to the south side in Middletown was a power plant that closed in 1977. Demolition and environmental cleanup of the 64-acre site was completed in 2010.

The KOZ designations mean companies that redevelop and move to those locations would have taxes frozen on the site.

New companies wouldn’t have added criteria, Donovan said. Expanding companies would have to increase employees by 20 percent in one year, make a capital investment equal to 10 percent of their gross revenue, or sign a lease equal to 5 percent of gross revenue for the duration of the zone.

CREDC plans to put the airport KOZ information out on development clearinghouses, such as the state’s www.pasitesearch.com and with commercial real estate firms, Donovan said. It will more actively promote them throughout the year, he said.

“People are looking and trying to decide if these are going to be an opportunity for their company,” he said.

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and logistics. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jimr@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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