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Albert Whitted Airport group amplifies impact, support

Veronica Brezina

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Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Committee member Walt Driggers speaks to a crowd at the Nov. 1 Friends of Albert Whitted event. All photos by Veronica Brezina.

St. Petersburg’s Albert Whitted Airport, located along the edge of downtown overlooking the waterfront, is recognized as the birthplace of scheduled commercial aviation and once served as a military air base – a rich history tied to the site that advocates don’t want to see erased with the rise of new development. 

“We believe St. Pete is a better city because of Albert Whitted Airport. It’s been part of our waterfront and used for aviation since 1917 – it’s in our city’s DNA. People move here because of the airport,” AWA Advisory Committee member Walt Driggers said during a Nov. 1 Friends of Albert Whitted Airport meeting. 

Seven St. Petersburg City Councilmembers, charter pilots and flight school instructors gathered inside a hangar to hear the latest updates on how the public airport is benefiting the community after Mayor Ken Welch’s proposal to evaluate potential non-aviation uses at the 100-acre-plus site. 

Today, Albert Whitted serves as a base for charter companies and is designated by the Federal Aviation Authority as one of the nation’s critical reliever airports, relieving congestion at commercial service hubs. 

RELATED: Vintage St. Pete: The legend of Albert Whitted

Dozens of tenants are based at the airport, such as the St. Pete Air flight school and Sol Relief, a St. Pete-based nonprofit that responds to rescue and relief needs during disasters. Pilots also utilize the airport to transport patients to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and other healthcare facilities. 

To further educate the general public about the airport’s role as an economic engine, the advocacy group is creating a documentary featuring the city’s past mayors, including Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman, who support Albert Whitted’s future. 

Driggers said the FOAWA team is using photos and information from St. Petersburg Museum of History to produce the documentary. 

FOAWP announced the Hangar Restaurant will have QR codes on its dining tables that people can scan and tune into live air traffic control audio while watching planes take off. 

FOAWP has also updated its website with video interviews from tenants at the airport and students who received their pilot’s licenses. The website also includes links to flight training applications and scholarship opportunities. 

Over the past 10 to 12 years, over 3,330 kids flew for the first time at the airport through its Young Eagles program. 

In April, the group awarded 19 aspiring pilots, from ages 16 through 24, $75,000 worth of flight scholarships. 

St. Petersburg City Councilmember Ed Montanari, a longtime supporter of the airport and former pilot in the U.S. Air Force and American Airlines, recalled how he cut his teeth in the industry. “My dream started at an airport like Albert Whitted,” Montanari said. “I’m confident we will keep it open.”

He reminded the crowd that in 2003, a referendum was introduced asking residents if they favored keeping the airport open or for it to house a new waterfront park on at least half the property, leaving the other half for mixed-use development. Roughly 75% of voters favored saving Albert Whitted. 

The white hangar pictured on the left will be one of two buildings muralists will paint. 

During the event, Driggers announced local artists Brian McAllister, a visual arts instructor with the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, and Alyssa Dunlap, owner of Alyssa Marie Gallery, will paint murals on two hangars.

Driggers didn’t reveal the conceptual design, but said it will “represent the airport’s past, present and future.” 

McAllister will begin tracing the mural’s outline tonight. Dunlap will start her piece later this month. 

The murals will be completed by December. 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    John Donovan

    November 7, 2023at5:19 pm

    AWA is a unique municipal asset serving as a downtown airport. One that many other cities wish they had.

  2. Avatar

    Darden Rice

    November 7, 2023at2:08 pm

    I’m curious how people think affordable housing can go in the Coastal High Hazard Area. If one were to factor in increased costs of new construction and hardening the buildings and infrastructure to withstand sea level rise, then only the most expensive condos could afford to be built there. And that’s assuming that building more density – affordable or not – in the CHHA is a wise idea, and it generally is not.

  3. Avatar

    Terry S. King

    November 7, 2023at12:11 pm

    “…STILL here ready to do whatever it takes to preserve this treasured asset to our city…”

    Treasured asset??🙄. Pain staking Noise and air pollution flyovers from 7am till 10pm several times per hour, SEVEN DAYS/WEEK. Young pilots being trained .. for what? Spend 500.00 a day at Vinoy Resort and be buzzed all day?? They then circle over the city and land FEET over USFSP Campus!!

    Curios and interesting a City Councilman a ex-air force and commercial pilot with connections to Central Command across the Bay is #1 supporter of AWA. These increased Buzzing Flyovers started about 2 years ago right after Ukraine invasion and a demand for F16 planes and flight training. What better place than AWA? You can’t fly the plane untill you get it off the ground. Follow the money???

  4. Avatar

    brooke anderson

    November 7, 2023at12:59 am

    Can somebody please explain why we are revisiting the airport issue again. If memory serves me right, I believe the citizens VOTED to keep it open a few years ago.

  5. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    November 6, 2023at8:01 pm

    Jonathan Ginsberg, Albert Whitted has historical significance to our city. It supports the life saving efforts of our local hospitals through Bay Flight. Young pilots gain valuable first flight experience. The airport will be a staging area for life saving supplies during any disaster that may befall our area. Those same voters who demanded by referendum that AW should remain, are STILL here ready to do whatever it takes to preserve this treasured asset to our city.

  6. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    November 6, 2023at7:48 pm

    I agree! AWA is a valuable asset to our city, state and citizens.

  7. Avatar

    james gillespie

    November 6, 2023at5:42 pm

    THE POSITVE CASE CURRENTLY MADE FOR RETAINING THE AIRPORT WINS MY VOTE. THE MAYOR CAN’T BE THAT DESPERATE ABOUT HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT OF HOUSING THERE CROWDS THE OPEN SPACE WHICH WOULD BE A LOSS. DVELOPMENT OF AFFORDABLE AND WORKFORCE HOUSING IN PROPER AREAS (GASLIGHT RENOVATION) MAKES MORE SENSE.

  8. Peter Kent

    Peter Kent

    November 6, 2023at5:10 pm

    Based on the HGPD site recent $4.49 million per acre valuation, this 100 acres has to be valued at well over $10 million per acre or over $1 billion as a city resident asset. Do the city residents agree to the continuing use of this property as a small airfield for a few planes and perhaps training a few kids when several other suitable nearby airfields exist. Consider selling this site to a major development for $1 billion and build new badly needed housing. Then build more affordable housing and cut the city’s tax rate. Peter Kent St. Petersburg

  9. Avatar

    Jonathan Ginsberg

    November 6, 2023at4:39 pm

    I support Mayor Welch’s study of future uses on this precious municipal waterfront land. The land mass is even larger than the Gas Plant/ Tropicana field site. It is hard for me to believe that such a large waterfront property should be used by so few people. With the housing crisis, and other economic development potential, It is clear that the airport should at least be studied, for future mixed use land uses.

    Also – Councillor Montanari to cite a (literally) twenty year old referendum as an argument seems to be a reach.A lot has happened in St Petersburg in the last five year, let alone 20. Many people have come and gone, and today’s residents should not be held to a vote taken before social media, when George W Bush was still president.

  10. Avatar

    Tom Lauria

    November 6, 2023at4:29 pm

    Whittled is precious downtown open space above and beyond its historical aviation recognition. In our lifetimes, let’s preserve and enjoy this strong link to our past.

  11. Avatar

    Kari M

    November 4, 2023at3:46 pm

    Albert Whitted airport is an integral part of St Petersburg’s economy and we are lucky to have it. Previously I lived in Fort Lauderdale and these executive airports provide training to new pilots, hours to advance certifications for pilots from around the world who travel to these airports for the opportunity and also an ever increasing commuter hub for planes and now even helicopters. As time goes by, the importance of commuting options at this airport will become more and more evident. Albert Whitted isn’t just a St Petersburg asset, it’s a state of Florida asset.

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