Friday, May 25, 2018

Editorial: A Big Letdown as Lebanon Chamber’s Wings and Wheels Event Ends

Wings and Wheels we hardly knew ye. Organized by the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce and launched in September 2014, the event was designed to celebrate the city and, especially, to highlight Lebanon Municipal Airport, which in its 77-year history has been both lauded as a crown jewel in the city’s infrastructure and bemoaned as a drag on its finances.

And so we note the irony of the cancellation of an event staged to promote the airport because potentially profitable negotiations are underway to lease the space at the airport where the event had been held.

As staff writer Tim Camerato reported last week, Airport Manager Rick Dyment confirmed that the city is in talks with Granite Air Center, which provides aircraft refueling, maintenance, storage and other services at the airport, to lease the space known as the executive ramp, located off Airpark Road past the terminal building at the south end of the airport. The discussion is in the early stages and Granite Air co-owner Greg Soho declined to comment last week, so we don’t yet know what a deal, if one is reached, might mean to the airport’s financial picture.

Suffice it to say that any boost to the bottom line will be welcome. The airport’s operational deficit averaged almost $170,000 a year between 2009 and 2015, although airport-generated property tax revenue more than offset that deficit. Even better, a recent report to the City Council by Finance Director Len Jarvi has the airport enjoying something of a fiscal tailwind.

Still, it’s too bad Wings and Wheels had its wings clipped.

The family-friendly event quickly established itself as an end-of-summer favorite among aviation buffs, classic-car enthusiasts and pretty much anyone with a kid. In its short, four-year run, the event attracted thousands of visitors — 1,500 in its first year, with similar turnouts in subsequent years — and all manner of businesses and organizations took to the tarmac to introduce themselves to attendees. The Civil Air Patrol, for example, provided information about its participation in search-and-rescue operations, Cape Air and the Experimental Aircraft Association offered free flights, the DHART rescue helicopter made an appearance, and the city’s police and fire departments displayed some of their vehicles and other equipment.

About halfway through last year’s event, Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said his department had given away about 500 kid-sized fire helmets to the many youngsters who came for a close-up look at a shiny ladder truck. “Over the years we’ve generally given out about 1,000,” he said.

Paul Boucher, the longtime Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO who retired in 2016, had hoped that Wings and Wheels would become the city’s signature event, like the Quechee Hot Air Balloon, Craft & Music Festival. His successor at the chamber’s helm, Executive Director Rob Taylor, of Meriden, said his organization is already working on a replacement event, although it’s likely too late to pull something together for this year. The chamber will, however, play a role in both the Food Truck Festival, scheduled for June 22 at Colburn Park, and the Rotary Club of Lebanon’s Brewfest, planned for August.

Food trucks are very trendy right now, and the craft beer movement has firmly established itself, so these events hold great promise.

What participants will miss, of course, is the thrill of walking out onto the airport tarmac, usually a restricted space for civilians, and hearing — and feeling — the rumble of a plane’s powerful engines. And they’ll miss the chance to get up close and personal with the Cessnas, warbirds, helicopters, fire trucks, police cruisers, muscle cars and gleaming antique sedans — and the dedicated people who own and operate them.

Farewell, Wings and Wheels. It was fun while it lasted.

Original article ➤ http://www.vnews.com

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