Two Middletown summer events may be canceled if lawsuits aren’t settled, organizers say

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Two of Middletown’s most popular summer events — the recently completed Ohio Challenge and Hops in the Hangar, scheduled for next month — may be canceled if the city doesn’t settle its lawsuits with a local skydiving company, organizers said.

Over the years, four lawsuits have been filed between the city and Start Skydiving. There have been filings in state and federal courts to resolve issues after lengthy negotiations failed to produce agreements.

One of the lawsuits contends the case is about the “ongoing vindictive, corrupt, and deceitful attempts by the city and its key personnel” to kick Start Skydiving out of the airport despite its 20-year lease that runs through 2029.

Three people encouraged city leaders to end the lawsuits during the citizen comments portion of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Dave Peace, coordinator of the Ohio Challenge that was held Friday and Saturday and drew 14,000 people to Smith Park, said if the lawsuits aren’t settled, he would step down from his volunteer position. Start Skydiving and Team Fastrax, the Middletown-based professional skydiving team, are “tattooed all over” the city, Pearce said.

With no financial support and the talent provided by co-owner John Hart and his team, Pearce said the Ohio Challenge couldn’t succeed.

“Without them,” he said, “we step backwards.”

He’s afraid if the lawsuits aren’t settled, Hart will move his skydiving company out of Middletown. That could spell the end to several events that Team Fastrax sponsors and supports, according to Pearce.

Sponsors are the “spark that make the engine run,” he said.

Dr. Mark Frazier, a lifelong Middletown resident, family physician and commercial hot air balloon pilot, told City Council that the Ohio Challenge depends on “solid sponsorships” like Team Fastrax.

He said the skydivers are “one of the faces” of the community and he’s ready for the conflicts to be resolved.

“It’s time we move on,” he said. “Let’s get going.”

Rich Bevis, former manager of the Middletown Regional Airport, said he recruited Start Skydiving to come to Middletown in 2005 when the airport was struggling. He said the company signed a 20-year lease with the city in 2009, and he was told by two former city officials they wanted the skydivers to leave.

“I’m ashamed of the city,” said Bevins, a Middletown resident for 17 years.

Then he told council: “Make a deal. Get it done.”

Otherwise, Bevis said, Hops in the Hangar will be canceled.

At the end of the City Council meeting, members went into two executive sessions, one regarding “disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent court action,” according to the agenda.

Mayor Nicole Condrey, who is affiliated with Team Fastrax, abstained from the meeting due to potential conflicts. She is limited by an Ohio Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion due to her past employment and connection with Team Fastrax.

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