Five months later, no lawsuit settlement between Middletown and Start Skydiving

City attorney asking federal judge to enforce a lawsuit settlement with airport tenant.

MIDDLETOWN — The lawsuit between the city of Middletown and Start Skydiving is back on the runway.

In November 2022, City Council authorized a lawsuit settlement, but five months later, Start Skydiving owners haven’t signed the agreement and now want out, according to court documents filed March 24 by the city’s attorney.

Start Skydiving has refused to execute the settlement documents because of “a change of heart,” according to documents.

Now the city is asking a federal judge to enforce a lawsuit settlement, according to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio.

Attorneys wrote that the city is asking the court for “unique, and perhaps extraordinary relief” to enforce the settlement agreement that the parties reached. The city is asking “only as a last resort after months of being patient” with Start Skydiving and, in many cases, “bending over backwards” to accommodate the company’s demands and last-minute requests, according to court documents.

The settlement, which was tabled at several City Council meetings due to changes in language, included a 40-year lease extension and a new hangar worth up to $1.4 million The new lease was supposed to start once the certificate of occupancy was issued and lasted for eight years renewable for four times.

Start Skydiving’s rent was to increase from $795 per month to $4,500 per month once the hangar was built. After eight years, the rent would increase 2%, or $90, per month, according to city documents.

In addition, Start Skydiving, which has operated at the airport since 2009, was scheduled to be a self-service fueling entity and allowed to purchase its fuel from its source of preference, according to documents.

Within two weeks after the agreement was signed, the city and Start Skydiving must file a joint notice of dismissal with prejudice, and take any other steps legally required to dismiss the lawsuits and without further costs or attorneys’ fees to any party, according to documents.

John Hart II, co-owner of Start Skydiving, did not respond to a request for comment and City Manager Paul Lolli said he couldn’t comment on litigation.

Council member Zack Ferrell said he’s frustrated that the settlement hasn’t been resolved months after it was approved by council.

“All we’re trying to do is move the city forward,” he told the Journal-News. “It’s hard to move forward on a $200 million project when you can’t leave the past behind you.”

He was referring to the entertainment district that includes a 3,000-seat event center planned for the East End.

Vice Mayor Monica Nenni said council’s approval of a settlement agreement with Start was “a good faith effort to restore tenant relations” at the airport while working to grow the airport and improve the existing amenities.

She said Lolli and his staff work hard to serve all of airport tenants fairly and with the best interest of the city and its residents.

“It’s for this reason that it’s so unfortunate this agreement has yet to be signed by Start, further dragging out what could be a costly court case that it seems now may have to go back before a judge,” she said. “With rising construction costs and interest rates, the Start expansion and airport hangar project we agreed to isn’t getting any less expensive either.”

Council member Rodney Muterspaw agreed: “It’s very disappointing because all this does is cost us more taxpayer dollars for attorney fees.”

On Nov. 15, the legislation passed 4-0 with Mayor Nicole Condrey, who is affiliated with Start Skydiving, abstaining as she has throughout the airport dispute. She is bound by an ethics ruling that says she is “prohibited from participating” in discussions about its lease arrangements.

Hart II sent a text message to the Journal-News after council approved the settlement. He credited Lolli, whom he called “a man with strong moral character” for piloting the settlement. Hart said the “egregious acts” of a few former city employees against Start Skydiving “was not worth pursuing further at the cost” of the Middletown taxpayers.

On Sept. 26, 2022, three weeks before the lawsuit was settled, John Hart II, his sons and two attorneys met with Lolli and two attorneys and they went through the lease “line-by-line” to discuss Start Skydiving’s original proposal and the city’s proposed changes, according to the document.

Everyone agreed on all the material terms of the settlement, and while some language needed to be revised, the meeting ended with Hart and Lolli shaking hands.

Still, the agreement is unsigned.

“This is unacceptable; and renders the last year-and-a-half of negotiations leading to an agreement useless. The court should enforce the agreed-upon settlement,” said the city’s March 24 motion.


  • The city would construct, at its own cost not to exceed $1.4 million, a turn-key 10,000 square foot addition to Start’s existing hangar at the airport..
  • The parties would execute a new lease that extended the years that Start would remain at the airport.
  • The new term of the lease would not begin until the completion of the hangar addition.
  • Start would consolidate all of its operations into its existing hangar and the addition to that hangar, except for some storage places it already occupied at the airport.
  • The skydiving landing zones would remain where they already existed.
  • Start could cross the center of the runway in a safe way that complied with all FAA regulations.
  • The city would issue a public apology.
  • Start would become a self-fueling entity.
  • Start could store its fuel in its own fuel tanks at the city’s fuel farm at no charge.
  • Start would pay its existing monthly rent until the completion of the hangar, when it would then pay $4,500 per month.
  • The parties would dismiss all outstanding lawsuits against each other.

SOURCE: City of Middletown


Open meetings lawsuit: On Dec. 28, 2020, John P. Hart III, a co-owner of Start Skydiving, filed a civil complaint in Butler County Common Pleas Court against the city of Middletown and council members Talbott Moon, Monica Nenni, Joe Mulligan and Ami Vitori alleging the council illegally went into executive session on Nov. 13, Dec. 1 and Dec. 15, 2020 to consider the lease of public property.

Mayor Nicole Condrey was not listed as a defendant since she abstained during the vote to go into executive session and did not participate in the discussion. She is limited by an Ohio Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion due to her past employment and current affiliation with Team Fastrax, a professional skydiving team operated by the Hart family.

Middletown complaint and eviction notice: On Jan. 7, 2021, Middletown filed a civil complaint against Start Skydiving and Selection Management Systems, Inc., for declaratory judgment and other relief in Butler County Common Pleas Court. In addition, it also filed an eviction notice for Start to vacate the office space in Hangar 1707 that is used for the airport manager and Fixed-Base Operator.

City officials allowed Start to remain in that space as productive conversations happened between Start Skydiving and the city toward resolution of real estate and operational issues among them.

Federal lawsuit filed by Start Skydiving: Start Skydiving filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati late in 2020 against the city, Matt Eisenbraun, then assistant economic development director who oversaw the airport, and Dan Dickten, former airport manager.

Start said that “this case is about the ongoing vindictive, corrupt, and deceitful attempts by the city and its key personnel to kick Start out of the airport and to harm its business, despite Start’s 20-year lease at the airport which runs through 2029.”

Start alleged city personnel hacked into Start’s online financial database to spy on Start and steal its business data in violation of Start’s civil rights under federal law, spread false and defamatory statements about Start’s operations and made up claims of unsafe operations by Start that were not true. The company also raised claims about ongoing lease issues with the city.

Criminal complaint against past, present city employees: Three former and current Middletown employees were charged in December 2020 following a criminal investigation by police.

Middletown police were contacted Sept. 15 by John Hart II of Start Skydiving, who alleged hacking, corporate economic espionage and illegal recordings by city employees at the Middletown Regional Airport.

The investigation was completed Dec. 8 and was reviewed by an outside prosecutor for charges. Hart II signed the complaint Dec. 22.

SOURCE: Journal-News archives

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