John Hall saluted for service to Wicomico airport

It was quite a surprise for Wicomico County Councilman John Hall, who is also Chairman of the Airport Commission, to learn the new passenger lounge at the county’s airport had been named for him.

“I had no clue,” Hall said about the celebratory event last week.

“They do a soft opening, so I thought that’s why I was going. But I had no idea they were going to name the lounge for me,” Hall said.

“I’ve been on the Airport Commission for the last six years so I have very strong feelings about where it’s going and how it’s going to progress. I’m so excited about it because it’s going to be such a huge economic generator for the county in the future,” he said about the facility, slated for a major, $50 million upgrade over the next few years.

Plans include larger hangars, an extended runway and conference rooms for business meetings.

“Our airport should be showcased,” Hall said.

The county would pay 10 percent and other funding is anticipated from the federal and state governments, Hall said.

“We’re talking about extending the runway, making it longer, because of needs for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and MEMA (Maryland Emergency Management Agency) because if something were to happen with the bridges – the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge – the Eastern Shore would be isolated.

“You can’t use Dover. You can’t use Wallops Island because we are above sea level and the other airports are at sea level. So, our airport would not be a viable airport for staging emergencies,” he explained.

There is ample opportunity for new businesses to settle in Wicomico County and entrepreneurs are drawn to an impressive airport, he said.

“When we look at the number of corporate jets that come into the Eastern Shore, Salisbury does not have its share so there is a need to upgrade the infrastructure. It has sewer and we are bringing in water. That should be done by next spring. That will allow us to have buildings and hangars over 10,000 square feet, which would allow us to have corporate jets,” he said.

New buildings must have sprinkler systems, and the large hangars will.

“We will break ground soon and it will come in the next two or three years,” Hall said.

As president of the Airport Commission four years, Hall has been helping to drive upgrades including the new lounge.

“We’re trying to find a food service to go in there, something like a food truck. We recognized a need for a business section in the airport, which we have never had. When people fly in on corporate jets they have to go to different places for conferences,” he said.

So, a meeting area will be built.

“This is not a small airport,” he said.

“The only two commercial airports in Maryland are Baltimore and Salisbury. Commercial means they have passenger traffic.  We have such a long way to go but this has been such a passion of mine,” he said.

And, of course, a restaurant is necessary.

“When we named it for him, he was so surprised. He didn’t know his family was coming.  It was a really nice event for John,” Dawn Veatch, manager of the Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport, said.

“It was County Executive Bob Culver’s idea to name it for John. It’s been in the planning for almost a year. Only a few people knew about it. We’re just thrilled to be able to honor him and name the facility after John, for his vision and passion for the airport,” Veatch said.

Among invited dignitaries who attended were Sen. Jim Mathias and Maryland Delegate Mary Beth Carozza.

The new restaurant, bar and lounge, being referred to as Foodies until a specific provider is in place, will open to airport employees and patrons, as well as the public, on June 15.  The day before, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce will have its monthly Business After Hours event there.

Veatch said heavy catering will be brought in, with items including salads, burgers and wings.

Hall and his wife have, for years, owned Hall’s Tidewater Travel Agency. They opened the business in 1975 and developed what he called “an affinity with Piedmont and Dick Henson.”

“We’ve had a relationship with the airport since 1975,” Hall said.

“I have always been proud of this airport.”

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