On the list of concerns for the North Central West Virginia Regional Airport, it’s not anywhere near the top of the list. At the same time, it’s something that long-time Benedum Airport Authority member and current Authority President Ron Watson wouldn’t mind seeing settled.
The issue: The inability to have a successful dining facility at the airport.
It’s been more than a year since the last venture to try and make it work set up shop. That group, Fourth Street, didn’t make it. But, they’re
not alone. In the history of the airport, there’s been about three times as many restaurant establishments as there have been name changes on the aviation facility. While it’s not considered the main issue, it’s an issue and Watson said talk still takes place about what to do with the space on the second floor of the airport terminal.
“The effort is still going,” Watson said when asked if the Authority – the airport’s governing body – had given up trying to fill the space. “ … We’ve offered people to come in and have had some people look at it. Heck, we’ve even offered the waiving of fees, but if you can’t get people to come none of that matter. It just seems like it’s a real problem to get people to break even up there.”
That, as Watson mentioned, won’t stop the Authority from trying. Recently, the airport began soliciting proposals for a restaurant through legal advertisements. Bids will be received through July 11. The bids will be opened July 12 and read aloud at 3 p.m.
A recommendation will be presented to the full Authority during their July 18 meeting. Of course, proposals have to be received for that to happen. And if it does, there’s still no guarantee a new restaurant provider will work out.
One thing Watson believes is that the local public, not the flying public, will likely have to support any dining establishment that would operate out of that space. With flying numbers down, using travelers as the main source of income for a restaurant won’t fly.
“A lot of people think it’s out of the way and, maybe to some people, it is,” said Watson. “To me, though, the Wonder Bar is out of the way. Oliverio’s is out of the way. The thing is, if you have a good product and the public favors that product, they’ll go there. We’ve got one of the best views you can have and there’s plenty of parking.”
Interim Airport Director Rick Rock agreed with Watson. He said there are many things that would work in favor of a potential restaurant at the airport.
“Airport restaurants are not just difficult here, but a difficult proposition at many similar-sized facilities,” Rock said. “At the same time, Morgantown now finally has something successful and that operator is doing well.
“We want that same thing to happen here and are willing to work with a potential operator to make that happen,” he continued. “In the past, we’ve waived fees, rental costs and have done as much as we can to establish a restaurant. The big thing with doing that is that we have to find a group that can take advantage of what we offer and the ambience; it’s spectacular.”
Watson said the space isn’t utilized often. However, he said he was extremely pleased that a recent Harrison County Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours was a huge success in the space. He estimated around 150 people attended and many raved about the views.
“Maybe we do some revisions in the kitchen. I know (Airport General Manager) Ricky (Rock) has been talking about doing some things,” Watson said. “Or maybe it just comes down to someone with really good product and a really good marketing plan. It doesn’t make or break the airport, but it’s a nice caveat to have at an airport.”
Rock said the space is available for others besides the Chamber. Individuals interested in renting the space out – before a potential operator goes into place – can contact the airport’s main office.
“We do rent it out,” Rock said. “What we find out is that those who use the space see the value that it has. We hope a restaurant operator will see the same thing.”
Editor's Note: Interim Airport Director Rick Rock stands in fron to the massive bar area at the space that has house multiple restaurants at the North Central West Virginia Airport.