Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hernando offers Hillsborough compromise in airport name battle

BROOKSVILLE -- Don Silvernell admits he sometimes has to catch himself when answering the general phone line at the airport and referring to it by the old name.

“My staff here has been much better than me,” said Silvernell, who is still getting used to the new name of Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport.

But if Hillsborough County Aviation Authority officials have their way, Silvernell and his staff won’t be saying it much longer. They are forging ahead with a trademark infringement suit against Hernando County and agreed Thursday to spend up to $400,000 to defend the Tampa International Airport name.

Janet Zink, director of communications with Tampa International Airport, said the authority’s attorney said it’s a clear case of “use it or lose it.”

“If you don’t defend your name you lose your ability to use it in the future,” Zink said.

In October, members of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority proposed a compromise two-line title for the airport, such as, “Brooksville-Hernando County Airport, a Tampa Bay Regional Facility.”

Following news of a $400,000 ready-suit Thursday, county commissioners have considered the following peace offering: Brooksville Tampa-Bay Regional Airport.

“We need to be concentrating more on attracting new business than court battles,” County Commissioner Dave Russell said, adding that the $400,000 figure was a fluster. “And frankly, the Tampa-Bay Regional aspect is what we’re after as a county. We want to be affiliated, and we are affiliated with the Tampa Bay region through a number of organizations.”

Russell said the “Bay” addition is not capitulation but rather a “reasonable compromise.”

“We’ll get the consensus of the board to make an offer before we make it formally,” Russell said. “But the fact is this could be a piece of litigation that, if it can be avoided, should be avoided. And if it’s a simple matter of changing one word that’s reasonable.”

“Now, if they won’t accept Tampa ‘Bay,’ then there’s something seriously wrong over there, because Tampa International cannot lay entire claim over there.”

As far as the likelihood of consensus, Russell says it would be presumptuous to think the board would unequivocally back the name change, and although some think the county should hold their ground, he “wouldn’t imagine” there’d be much disagreement.

“This has come up before, and we’ve discussed the name ‘Tampa Bay,’ and how it made the name more lengthy, so we went with ‘Tampa,’“ Russell said.

Russell also noted that, by statute, anytime there’s a conflict between governmental entities they must engage through mediation prior to going to trial.

“Well, Tampa International chose to flout that law and go directly to the court,” Russell said. “The judge, it ruffled his feathers, and he ordered us to mediation. The judge is looking for us to strike some sort of reasonable compromise, and this by any stretch is.”

Silvernell said staff is going ahead despite the threat of a protracted legal battle. Except for the sign out front bearing the old name, all the letterheads and documents now reflect the new regional moniker.

“The suit doesn’t mean we have to stop,” Silvernell said. “The suit just means we’re in disagreement about it.”

Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano called the situation unfortunate but “we’re trying to run the airport like a business.

“The brand equity that we have in our name is a crucial piece of those efforts,” Lopano said. “We’ve invested considerable time and money into building that brand. We even trademarked “Tampa Airport” and “Tampa International Airport.” We have federal trademarks of those names. Not Tampa, but the words, Tampa airport and Tampa International Airport.”

Maintaining the Tampa International brand identity is essential for marketing programs not just for commercial airlines, but also to aviation-related businesses, Lopano said.

“It’s clear to me that the change proposed by Hernando County is an attempt to capitalize on our name and reputation and delete our value in that brand. I support regionalism, but not to our detriment,” he said.

County Economic Development Manager Mike McHugh has said renaming the local airport the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport will reap big dividends for out-of-state companies who will have a better idea of the complex’s proximity to its urban neighbor.

In November, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA) filed suit against Hernando County seeking to prohibit the government from using the new name.

The lawsuit claims it would be a “false designation of origin, false advertising, Florida common law trademark infringement and Florida trademark dilution.”

Hillsborough Aviation Airport officials believe consumers will be confused with the name similarity.

But McHugh said in a recent interview that fear is unfounded. All state and federal descriptions of this area place Hernando County in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, he said.

Chicago, for example, has five or six airports that piggyback on the Chicago name, he said. One of those airports is in Gary, Indiana, out of the state, he added.

Lopano sees it differently.

“We have no choice but to protect our name,” he said. “I would imagine Old Navy would be upset if someone came in and named a company Old Regional Navy.”


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