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Henry, Clayton finalize sale of Tara Field

Special Photo / Henry County Commission Chairman, Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis (from left) and Clayton Commission Chairman, Eldrin Bell, signed a deal to finalize the sale of Tara Field, in Hampton, to Henry County.

Special Photo / Henry County Commission Chairman, Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis (from left) and Clayton Commission Chairman, Eldrin Bell, signed a deal to finalize the sale of Tara Field, in Hampton, to Henry County.

Henry County is officially the owner of Tara Field.

Years of negotiating have come to fruition on the Southside, as the chairmen of the Henry County Board of Commissioners, and Clayton County’s commissioners, have signed closing contracts approving the deal.

“I came onto the board in 2005, and negotiations were under way for the acquisition of this airport since 2003 or 2004,” said Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis, following the recent signing ceremony.

“We have recognized for a long time how important this airfield is to Henry County, and so to be able to finally bring this deal to a close, to finally purchase this airport to become a valuable asset to Henry County, this is truly an historic day for the county.”

Although Tara Field has been the property of Clayton County, it is located in Henry County, next to Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The total sale price for the airport is $17.7 million, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) kicking in 84 percent of the money for the purchase, according Henry County Manager James C. “Butch” Sanders. Henry County will pay $2.7 million of the total price, said Sanders.

“Since the FAA has already paid for that airport one time, we don’t pay for it again,” Sanders told commissioners at a recent meeting. “You’re actually buying all this for nine cents on the dollar. What we get for this is 543 acres of land, a terminal building with the attached hangar, a free-standing hangar, and a fuel barn.”

Henry District II Commissioner Fred Auletta represents the area that includes the airport. He said the sale comes at a critical time for the local government.

“When times are slow, businesses may have to make hard cuts, but they must also make the capital expenditures necessary to secure their future,” Auletta said. “And in many cases, when times are hard, that’s when you have the best opportunity to get something at a bargain. It is the same for government. We’re in stiff competition for jobs across the state, the region, nation and even globally.

“The airport adds to our competitive advantage when people are looking to relocate or create a regional office,” he said. “This was an opportunity to attract business here, to create jobs, and the opportunity only existed because of the bad times. You have to seize the opportunities when they are available.”

The closing of the deal came one month after Henry County first inked a contract to purchase the airport from Clayton County. The Clayton Board of Commissioners, in July, voted unanimously to sell Tara Field, in Hampton, to Henry County. Henry commissioners, in turn, approved the agreement.

Clayton County's web site shows that the county had owned Tara Field, which has a 4,500-foot-long runway, since 1994.

Henry County officials have eyed Tara Field, but it was not until February, that Clayton Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell confirmed talks were taking place at the time.

Bell said his interest in selling the airport to Henry County stemmed from a desire to make some improvements to the facility, but there was difficulty involved because Henry County had control over the land around the airport.

“Several years ago, I don’t remember the number, I made the effort to expand the runway, and to make the airport what I thought would be viable, [but] we were not able to do that, because of the lack of support from Henry County, at that time,” Bell said.

“Further, it was a part of the resolution to my bsudget proposal which I offered [at that time when he wanted to extend the runway], that would help to decrease significantly the amount that citizens would have to pay in property taxes.”

Bell said Clayton County could see some financial relief by selling the airport to Henry County. In June, Clayton commissioners voted to increase the county’s millage rate by five mills to help offset an anticipated $23 million funding shortfall in Clayton’s fiscal year 2012 budget.

Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this article