Middletown airport settlement hasn't resolved lawsuits; talks continue

'Supply chain issues' might force revision
Posted at 11:46 AM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 11:50:13-05

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Four months after Middletown city council approved a $1.4 million settlement to resolve years of litigation with an airport tenant, no lawsuits have been dismissed and the deal hasn’t been finalized.

Middletown City Councilman Rodney Muterspaw said rising material prices prompted a new round of negotiations about the cost of a hangar that the city agreed to build for Start Skydiving as part of the settlement that council approved in November.

“We were told that the amount has increased because of supply chain issues,” Muterspaw said.

The settlement is politically sensitive because Mayor Nicole Condrey once worked for Start Skydiving and is bound by an ethics ruling that says she is “prohibited from participating” in discussions about its lease arrangements. The company has been fighting with the city over its lease terms since Condrey was elected in 2019.

Start Skydiving co-owner John Hart has filed three lawsuits since 2020, while the city sued to evict the company in 2021. In one case, the company alleged the city breached its 2009 lease for an airport hangar and violated the company’s constitutional rights by “engaging in corporate espionage through the hacking and stealing of Start’s business data.” The city denied the allegations in a 2021 court filing that said Hart was upset about “losing the ability to run free” at the city-owned airport.

The city’s public stance about the lease dispute changed last fall, when City Manager Paul Lolli told the I-Team he was negotiating a settlement.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the city to completely resolve these matters with such an important partner of ours at the airport and we’ve been working diligently to get this completed,” Lolli said.

On Nov. 15, Middletown council authorized a proposed settlement that included the city’s apology to Start Skydiving and a 40-year lease for the company, along with a new hangar that would cost the city no more than $1.4 million. Start Skydiving also gained the ability to operate its own fuel farm at the airport and a right of first refusal if the city decides to sell airport land in the future.

The agreement required Hart to dismiss a federal lawsuit against the city within 14 days of signing the document. The lawsuit hasn’t been dismissed, nor have three others filed in Butler County.

Hart did not return an e-mail seeking comment for this article.

Attorneys for the city and Start Skydiving asked a Butler County judge in January to cancel a previously approved trial schedule “so the parties may continue to engage in settlement discussions.”

As talks continued, the city launched a bidding competition to seek contractors willing to build a new hangar for Start Skydiving.

That competition ended March 3 with no companies submitting proposals, Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahall said this week. Records show the city sought contractors to construct a “building shell, foundation and slab” equipped with “underground rough plumbing.” The records show the city planned a separate bidding competition for the building’s “interior fit out.”

Cahall said the city was disappointed by the lack of bidders but wasn’t sure what will happen next. He also declined to comment on the status of settlement talks.

Middletown council votes to settle lawsuits with airport tenant Start Skydiving
Middletown skydiving company might be forced to leave city if landing zones move

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