By ED RUNYAN
To accompany the big changes taking place at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, officials are debating a proposal to change its name to Northeast Ohio Regional Airport.
The name was the leading vote-getter in a poll conducted by a volunteer group called YNGAir Partners. The name was preferred by 36 percent of respondents, followed by Mahoning Valley Regional Airport at 10 percent, Ohio-Penn
Regional Airport at 7 percent and William H. McKinley Regional Airport at 7 percent.
On Wednesday, members of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which runs the airport, had their first discussion of the proposed change.
But the discussion didn’t get very far because first they want to discuss it with the county commissioners in Mahoning and Trumbull counties as well as the mayors in Youngstown and Warren.
Port Authority member Don Hanni III was ready to move forward with the change Wednesday. He asked for a vote on a resolution asking that Dan Dickten, airport aviation director, talk to Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone and any other officials necessary to make the change.
“The consultant we are paying said it will bring more business to the airport, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” Hanni said, referring to Tom Reich of Washington, D.C.
Among the steps needed to change the name is for the city of Youngstown to approve a resolution to allow the name change, Hanni noted.
But only Hanni and two others of the eight board members agreed with the resolution.
Chairman Scott Lynn and board member Rick Schiraldi said it’s premature to recommend a name change now. Both said it makes sense to discuss the idea as part of a strategic planning process the board hopes to begin next month.
That process might take only about three months, Lynn said.
Board member James Floyd said the board is “missing the direct input from Mahoning and Trumbull counties,” which provide most of the funding to run the airport through countywide hotel-motel taxes.
The county commissioners make the decisions on whether to provide hotel-motel taxes to the airport and in what quantity.
Floyd said he’d also heard that the mayor of Warren was concerned about taking “Warren” out of the name. Doug Franklin, Warren’s new mayor, did not return a call seeking comment.
The only board member to express his own opinion on the name change was Scott Lewis, who said he was opposed to the suggested change. “I thought we were going to change it to the Youngstown-Warren-Sharon Regional Airport,” Lewis said.
When reached after the meeting, Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel said he disagrees with taking the names of Warren and Youngstown out and replacing it with “Northeast Ohio” because that doesn’t tell someone where the airport is located.
“Where is Northeast Ohio or Western Reserve? I like it just fine the way it is,” Heltzel said.
Heltzel noted that Reich provided the airport with research indicating several airports saw an increase in business after changing a name, but he thinks there were probably other things going that also affected business.
As for the comment Dickten and Reich have made about the airport’s image being tarnished because people associate the current name with loss of daily air service in 2003, Heltzel cites the example of General Motors.
“When you hear the name General Motors, you think of the company that went bankrupt. But now you hear it’s about to become the biggest carmaker in the world again.”
Likewise, Heltzel said he doesn’t think the loss of service in 2003 matters to people today. More important to them are positive changes being made, such as installing restrooms in the secure area of the airport terminal for a better airport experience.
The airport sold bonds in December to raise $3.7 million to make other improvements at the airport over the next year, such as an expanded baggage-claim system, improvements to curbs, facade, heating and cooling and parking lot, plus replaced waiting-area seating and a new boarding bridge.
Fees charged to airline passengers called Passenger Facility Charges will pay back the money being used for the improvements.
Trumbull Commissioner Dan Polivka said he likes the current name but added, “If they’ve done some research and feel it would be better for advertising, I’d be willing to sit down and talk to them.”
Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said he credits Dickten with doing “just an incredible job” of running the airport, and part of that is “doing what we can to market the airport.”
Regarding the new name, he said, “Maybe this is something we should do. We are bringing a lot of people there [into the airport]. I may have to support it.” He said he had no problem with the name “Northeast Ohio Regional Airport,” but he would like to look more at the survey that was conducted.
Commissioner John McNally IV said airport officials discussed the idea of changing the name with him months ago, and he’d like to talk it over with them again before anything is finalized.
“I don’t think anyone is seriously opposed to the idea,” McNally said. “I’d like to hear what other names they’re thinking about. I’m not wedding to any particular name, including Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.”
Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone said he has talked with several people about changing the name since the idea came up last summer, and they all say the same thing: “What difference does it make what its name is?”