20210326-LOC-dillant hopkins

Keene’s Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey

The former site of a restaurant and entertainment venue at the Keene-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey may get a new lease on life.

On Thursday, the Keene City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee voted unanimously to recommend that City Manager Elizabeth Dragon be authorized to negotiate a lease agreement with Runway Fun Park LLC. The local company is looking to operate a restaurant and amusement venue at the Old Homestead Highway property.

Airport Director David Hickling said during Thursday’s committee meeting that the establishment would include a miniature golf course and a go-kart track. He said these attractions were both previously offered at the site as well.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he told the committee. “It would be a long-term revenue with a lease on that, and it’s going to take that place that’s looking run-down now, build it up, make it look nice, make it another vibrant part of the community.”

Most recently, the space was home to Hillside Pizza and Swanzey Amusements, which operated similar businesses to those being proposed. The five-acre site has been vacant for five to six years, Hickling told The Sentinel in an email.

This is a different space from the former location of Flight Deck, a restaurant that was in the terminal on Airport Road before closing last month when the owner and city staff were unable to agree on terms to renew the eatery’s lease.

Committee members expressed support for the Runway Fun Park proposal. Councilor Stephen Hooper said this would be another step toward keeping the airport, and the area around it, a viable part of the community.

“This is a great addition to seeing the airport come to life,” he said. “I’m very much looking forward to that new business coming out there.”

Councilor Raleigh Ormerod said he’s excited about the revival of the space and called it an “economic development multiplier.” He said part of Runway Fun Park’s plan includes hosting events, which would bring people to the airport from other parts of the Monadnock Region.

One question about the proposal, raised by Councilor Bettina Chadbourne, was whether the city had ever considered simply selling the property rather than continuing to lease it.

Hickling explained that because the property was originally purchased with money from the Federal Aviation Administration, revenue from its sale would have to be put toward the federal share of any capital projects at the airport. By leasing it, the revenues can be put toward the city’s operating budget, he said.

The site plan for the proposed restaurant and amusement center was approved by the Swanzey Planning Board following a public hearing on Dec. 10.

The FOP committee’s recommendation on a lease agreement will now head to the full council, which will meet next on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson.