YOUNGSTOWN - The Cafaro Foundation is donating $100,000 to a local community group working to establish daily air service at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
The funds, being given to YNGAir Partners, a nonprofit organization that works with the Western Reserve Port Authority, would be used to help guarantee profitability for a commercial carrier during a startup phase of service at the local airport. Airport officials have been in discussions with United Airlines about the possibility of the company providing twice-a-day connections to Chicago O'Hare Airport. YNGAir Partners has been soliciting both public and private sources to contribute funds to supplement $1.2 million in federal and local funds already earmarked as a "revenue guarantee" for such startup service. YNGAir Partners has said it hopes to raise between $400,000 and $500,000 for that purpose.
Airport Director of Aviation Dan Dickten called the donation "a wonderful display of community support shown by the Cafaro family."
A prepared statement released Tuesday said the donation is being made because Cafaro Foundation leaders realize that a rapid transportation link to the rest of the world is vital for any local economy to flourish.
"We hope that this $100,000 gift from our family and our charitable foundation will serve as a catalyst for other contributions," said William A. Cafaro, co-president of the Cafaro organization.
Airport officials hope so too.
Tuesday, they addressed members of Warren City Council's Finance Committee in an attempt to secure more funds, and today they plan to make the same request to Youngstown City Council.
Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, said he would like to see a dynamic plan and a long-term partnership between the airport and United Airlines.
Dickten told city council members that they met with United Airlines officials two years ago and were told at that time they would not come to the Youngstown airport while there was a hub at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Now that the hub is leaving Cleveland, United Airlines officials approached Youngstown to determine its interest in having service to Chicago.
"It is unfortunate for that airport (Cleveland), but good for us," he said.
With the United flights, Dickten said they are hoping initially to recapture at least a 25 percent of the people who fly to and from Chicago from the Warren, Youngstown, and Sharon region.
Gary Wakeford, who has more than one million travel miles in connection with his business, told the council members that he previously was against projects designed to expand the airport. However, he is a big supporter of this project, because times have changed and potentially having direct Chicago flights would be beneficial to the region.
Dickten said United officials told him the cost of flights from Youngstown will be the same as they are out of either the Cleveland or Pittsburgh airports.
After the meeting, Councilwoman Helen Rucker said she hopes to present legislation at next week's council meeting to provide up to $30,000 in support for the project.
In Tuesday's announcement from the Cafaro Foundation, William Cafaro touted the importance of local air service availability.
"The many companies in our area collectively spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in airfare annually. The need is there. Why not make the service more convenient than having to drive to flights originating in Cleveland, Akron or Pittsburgh?" he said.
Cafaro Co-president Anthony Cafaro Jr. believes business and even leisure travelers would benefit, and called it an "investment in our economic future" that would increase accessibility and appeal to outside investors.
Youngstown-based Cafaro Co. owns and operates Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles. The company is among the nation's largest privately held real estate development firms. The Cafaro Foundation is a charitable entity established by the Cafaro family in memory of company founder William M. Cafaro. Since 1996 it has awarded millions of dollars in grants to worthy causes.