Company withdraws Ohio Challenge sponsorship due to airport dispute

A Middletown business owner said he is withdrawing his company’s sponsorship of a major event in the city over complaints about the new manager of Middletown Regional Airport.

John Hart II, owner of and Start Skydiving, told the Journal-News he has notified Ohio Challenge officials that his company would be withdrawing its sponsorship.

“However, that doesn’t mean we may reactivate it at a later date,” Hart said.

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Hart said his company “has been the key sponsor of the Ohio Challenge for the past five years contributing more than $250,000 toward its success,” according to an email he sent Aug. 8 to City Council members and other officials that was obtained by the Journal-News.

In the email, Hart expressed frustration with city administration over a number of contractual issues at Middletown Regional Airport as well as with new airport manager Daniel Dickten.

The loss of the event’s presenting sponsorship has raised concerns with Ohio Challenge organizers, who are scheduled to meet with city officials Tuesday, Aug. 14, said David Pearce, the event’s treasurer and organizer for the past 16 years.

“(Hart) is questioning his commitment to the city,” Pearce said. “It’s unfortunate it came to this. “

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“The Ohio Challenge has been a great event for the Middletown community and region for 15 years. Any future sponsorship changes would be premature to discuss,” Shelby Quinlivan, city spokeswoman, told the Journal-News.

Organizers of the annual balloon festival that attracts thousands to the city each year were recently notified by Dickten that there would be no more vehicle parking allowed at the airport for the event.

“Parking at the airport for the Ohio Challenge is critical for its success,” Pearce said, adding that visitors don’t like being bused in from another location. “It’s the perfect venue for this event.”

The loss of parking at the airport means Ohio Challenge organizers will have to re-think the event, he said.

“We have to solve the parking and decide how important this event is to the community,” Pearce said. “If they don’t want it, it’s easy to end the event if they make it too hard. Why beat our heads against the wall?”

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The Ohio Challenge is a source of income for the city’s non-profit organizations that generates between $8,000 and $12,000 for them, according to Pearce, who added that the event also provides a “significant positive image for Middletown.”

“We have a tall task in front of us to identify new sponsors for the event,” Pearce said. “That money will go away and that’s sort of sad.”

According to event organizers, the 2017 Ohio Challenge generated an estimated direct economic impact of $2 million to $2.5 million. Organizers said the event attracts an average of 50,000 to 55,000 people, with about 50 percent of the visitors are from Butler and Warren counties. About 94 percent of the visitors are from Ohio.

Mary Huttlinger, executive director of the Middletown Visitors Bureau, said she was not sure of the direct impact on the event’s internal strategies or execution of the event.

“But from a visitors bureau perspective, the more collaboration and collective support we can provide an event, like the Ohio Challenge, the overall experience for residents and guests will be enhanced,” Huttlinger said. “When you have a successful event, with sponsorship support, it increases the likelihood of repeat visitors and therefore an increased economic impact.”

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