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Tony Battaglia saw the possibilities for Hamilton Airport

Tony Battaglia saw the possibilities for Hamilton Airport

Tony Battaglia, the man who more than any single person, spearheaded the  transformation of Hamilton Airport from an underutilized white elephant to a thriving cargo and passenger terminal has died after a long struggle with cancer.

Prior to 1996 Hamilton Airport was managed by the City of Hamilton. At that time, its was a sleepy place– its passenger service consisted of a daily flight in a small turboprop to Pittsburgh and a similar service to Ottawa that operated in fits and starts. Through the 1980’s many small airlines had tried and failed to make a go of Hamilton.  In hopes of breathing some life into the facility, the city decided to seek proposals on the privatization of the facility.

TradePort International

In 1996 Tony Battaglia headed a consortium called TradePort International. The group included Lee Smallman, area manager of Peter Kiewit and Sons, a major construction company; Brian Chamberlain, president of AvGroup, a Burlington company which designed the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum; Brian Harrop, president of Independent Ready-mix, a Hamilton construction and construction supply company, and Sam Barone, a former Transport Canada bureaucrat.

The TradePort bid was pitted against The Hamilton Airport Development Group headed by the Fracassi Brothers and Bobby Waxman of Phillip Environmental. This was 1996- when Phillip was still the darling of the Canadian financial media—its collapse was a couple of years away. The Phillip group engaged in aggressive public relations with full page newspaper ads promoting their bid.

Tony’s group took a more strategic approach, relying on a behind-the-scenes government relations strategy that as in part developed by the late Eric Cunningham. Ultimately the contact to operate the facility went to TradePort and Tony Battaglia became its first CEO.

(At that time, this writer had quit as news director of CHCH and had formed a Hamilton branch of Cunningham’s Toronto-based PR company. We started out with a few local clients—one of them TradePort.)

Airport development

During Tony’s time at Hamilton Airport, he was responsible for attracting cargo tenants like UPS, getting the main runway rebuilt to accommodate the largest aircraft and lobbying Queen Park for the Highway 6 extension that serves the facility. In 2006, he stepped aside telling reporters he was a builder, not an operator and wanted to get back into construction and development where he had found success before TradePort.

At that time Hamilton’s Director of Economic Development, Neil Everson said, “The TradePort-Hamilton deal has been recognized as one of the best public-private partnerships in Canada and that’s largely through Tony’s efforts.”

More later.

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