AHP Gets $75k to Aid Takeoff

Aviation Heritage Park gets $75K to aid takeoff
The Daily News
February 12, 2008

By Robyn L. Minor, The Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky.

Feb. 12–The Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau on Monday approved using $75,000 in special tourism projects funding to help the Aviation Heritage Park get off the ground. The city and county will have to give final approval to the funding, which will be used for concrete curbing and pavers for the park.

Carroll Hildreth, president of the Heritage Park board, told the board that the $10,000 the tourism board contributed early on was the only public funds the board has received thus far. The money was used to transport the F-4D Phantom II jet that Bo ling Green resident Gen. Dan Cherry flew when he shot down a MiG-21 over North Vietnam. Warren County contributed the land at Basil Griffin Park and will help maintain the grounds.

Hildreth said the board has done a good job raising private funds — $86,000 — to bring two planes here and to restore them. “But it is far more difficult to raise money to build the infrastructure,” he said. “That is why we are here.”

The Phantom is already in place and a six-month restoration is being undertaken of the F9F-5 Panther, the type flown by a Western Kentucky University alumnus, the late Johnny Magda, who was a commander and flight leader for the Navy Blue Angels. A d cade in the service ended when Magda was shot down during the Korean War.

The park will be interactive, thanks to the help of Larry Bailey, who also is on both the Heritage Park and CVB boards. Bailey has already established a low-frequency radio station (89.3) that can be heard by people driving nearby. “The park will come alive,” Hildreth said.

Hildreth said members have gathered the oral histories of more than 50 distinguished aviators or support crew who are either from southcentral Kentucky or have close ties here. The board plans to bring five more pieces of aircraft here that are tied to those aviators. Hildreth said news of what those are will come later.

Also to come in future expansions of the park would be some kind of a hangar-type building to display artifacts. Heritage Park board publicist Bob Pitchford said those artifacts, including flight jackets and other items, are coming in monthly.

Pitchford talked to the board about how the park will bring more tourists to Warren County, who stay in its motels — a funding requirement is that approved projects attract visitors to Warren County and should “potentially” and ultimately lead to a increase in hotel lodging.

To coincide with its June 21 Hangar Party this year, the Classic Jet Aircraft Association will come to Bowling Green, he said. At least 30 vintage aircraft and crews will be here over three days, during which there will be a mini-air show. “We could start to promote Bowling Green as a destination to the aircraft community,” Pitchford said, thumbing through a half-inch thick book of names of aircraft associations across the country, all of which have annual or regular meetings that could potentially be drawn to the area.

“All those groups need a place to stay,” he said. Later, CVB staffer Duncan Hines told members that he has talked up the Aviation Heritage Park to military groups that he is trying to draw to the area for reunions.

“They are really excited about it,” Hines said. If the funding gets final approval, work on the park would begin this spring and should be complete for a summer opening. The project total is estimated at about $250,000.

“We have lots of people providing in-kind work for site preparation (and other things), but we have no place to walk,” Pitchford said. After the presentation, the board spent 45 minutes or so discussing the merits of the project and whether they should fund it.

Board member Leon Volkert asked what would be the likelihood that the special tourism projects money will evaporate. Volkert said he had read how a portion of the motel tax could go back to funding its original purpose of supporting the construction of the Sloan Convention Center if an expansion is undertaken.

“They could change the ordinance,” Vicki Fitch, CVB executive director, said of the city. “In case this does happen, is there a need to save money?” Volkert asked. Board member David Wiseman said: “If we think this is a viable project … that should not be an issue that would hold us back.” Bailey, who didn’t vote because of his association with the park, told board members he thinks it is an investment that will pay off for tourism.

Member Jeremy Bratcher said he had concerns about spending such a large chunk of money with the potential that the funds could dry up. “But I actually think this is along the lines of what we should be doing with the money,” he said. “The presentation was great. I wasn’t particularly sold on the project before.”

In the end, the funding was unanimously approved, with Bailey abstaining. Board Chairman Dan Riley said he appreciated the board’s questions and thorough discussion on the issue. “It shows we don’t take this responsibility lightly,” he said.