Pulling Donation, Businessman Protests North Adams Airport Commission

Jun 21, 2018

The businessman behind Turboprop East, the largest business at the North Adams airport, has withdrawn a $200,000 contribution to the airport in a letter that also threatened to sue the city.

In a letter dated June 19th, businessman Harry S. Patten told the North Adams airport commission that because it was “embroiled with an individual of dubious character,” thus “preventing them from properly functioning,” he would withdraw a donation to help fund a new fixed-base operator — an airport specific administrative building — at the Harriman-and-West airport. The letter was sent before a controversial meeting that day where the commission granted a lease with yet unannounced terms to Alex Kelly, a convicted rapist and sex offender who is operating his Berkshire Skydiving company out of the airport.

Patten’s website claims he is “the foremost buyer and seller of rural and recreational land in America” with billions of dollars in sales under his belt. He bought Turboprop East, which repairs turboprop planes built by King Air, Citation, and Piaggio, in 1995. A January 20th, 2016 article by iBerkshires.com reports that Patten’s donation of $200,000 to the city’s efforts to build the new administrative building on the airport campus accounted for 5 percent of the $4 million project.

A September 22nd, 2017 article on the same site reported that after the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s funding didn’t come through and other efforts to fund the project failed, it was replaced with a plan to move a nearby doctor’s office onto airport grounds to serve the same purpose.

Patten’s letter concluded that “if the Commission cannot perform its duties to control and regulate the airport, I will bring suit against the city of North Adams and the members of the Airport Commission personally.” Patten, who declined to speak with WAMC beyond the letter, said that “the management by an inept commission will damage the airport and my business at Turbo Prop [sic].”

“I did receive a copy of the letter that Mr. Patten sent to the airport commission and I have invited Mr. Patten to meet with me to talk about the airport,” North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard told WAMC.

Losing Patten’s donation will have an impact on the city’s planning for the airport.

“We will probably have to make that up in some other manner," said North Adams City Council President Keith Bona. “It’s a financial impact, but it’s not as big as if the FAA pulls out their funding.”

Bona, who made it clear that the city council only approves the appointed volunteer members of the airport commission and holds no sway over its decision making, tells WAMC that if the airport commission had denied Kelly’s proposal in a manner that suggested discrimination, it would have exposed the city to great financial risk.

“It’s a lose-lose situation because if they denied Mr. Kelly’s right to being involved with the airport the way it was approved, they could be sued," Bona said to WAMC. "We could lose state funding or federal funding because he’s doing everything he’s required by the FAA. You can have all the feeling you want. You can’t bring those opinions forward when it comes to that kind of vote.”

Bona said upwards of $20 million in federal funding could be on the line for the city should Kelly press a discrimination lawsuit.

“Most of that airport was built and upgraded using FAA funding through federal government, and you could lose that funding,” he said.

For his part, Kelly has declined interview requests from WAMC since an earlier story in May.

Bona said he sympathizes with critics of the airport commission’s decision to install Kelly into the public facility.

“I can understand, I have an 18-year-old daughter," said Bona. "Would I want to recommend her to go over there and go parachuting? No. But legally, he has that right to do that business. Ironically, he can’t legally run an ice cream truck in Massachusetts, but he can legally strap himself onto customers and jump out of a plane.”