Albert Whitted launches education, advocacy campaign
As controversial talks continue about the future of the 100-acre Albert Whitted Airport, the airport committee, along with its tenants, wants to remind the community of its significant role in the city.
The Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Committee has formed the Friends of Albert Whitted Airport group. The group is launching a new campaign dubbed Love 4 AWA that will have several social media pages in the coming weeks. Sue Hoffman of the marketing firm Hashtag Creative is spearheading the social media accounts.
“We want the community to learn more about the airport and for people to share their stories,” Hoffman said to a crowd of pilots and tenants inside a hangar at the airport during a Wednesday meeting.
The formation of the group and campaign takes place as St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is pursuing a study on the potential future of the airport, including non-aviation uses. Welch initiated a process of selecting consultant firms to study the uses; however, the selection process was canceled but is expected to be reissued as a Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Qualifications (RFP).
St. Petersburg City Councilmember Ed Montanari, a longtime advocate for the airport and former pilot in the U.S. Air Force and American Airlines, spoke at the morning meeting. He recalled his involvement in a campaign to save the airport in 2003 when a referendum was introduced that asked 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. The majority of residents voted to keep the airport.
“This is a classic case of history repeating itself,” Montanari said, who was also part of the task force created to help improve the airport. “Earlier this year, I was on a phone call from Welch, it was a day before we were going to get an update on the airport master plan and the mayor informed me he wanted to do some studies to see if there’s a better use of the land here. I was totally shocked. I never heard anything about that.”
While the proposed studies are meant to evaluate the site before any potential action may take place, Montanari explained how the majority of the city council desires for the airport property to retain its use.
If the mayor selects a consultant to do a study and the contract cost is over $75,000, then it must go before the city council for a vote.
“We need to get together, we need to organize, have meetings like this and need to get people involved and inform residents in the city why this airport is so valuable. Over 100 years ago, city founders set aside the waterfront for public use, parks, marinas and an airport. I am not going to waiver when it comes to what happens at this airport,” Montanari said. “I’m open and willing to do whatever it takes.”
Active tenants also took to the podium to introduce their operations housed at the airport and how they wouldn’t be as successful without its existence.
Harris Ambush of Sol Relief, a St. Pete-based nonprofit that responds to rescue and relief efforts during disasters, described how the group, mainly comprised of volunteer pilots, recently responded to help those affected by Hurricane Ian by providing supplies. The company has flown over 400 flights and delivered over 1 million pounds of resources to date.
Mark Womack of Med-Trans Corporation, which is contracted by local hospitals in transporting patients, does roughly 500 flights a year.
During Hurricane Ian, Womack said his company transported 67 NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) babies that were evacuated from hospitals in the South.
“If it wasn’t for the availability of the airport, those transit times would have been extended,” he said, noting how every minute counts with compromised patients.
Not only will the campaign launch spotlight stories such as these from airport users, but it will also educate the public about scholarship programs with companies at the airport.
For example, Mike Petagna, a pilot, and Barbara Hedge, a flight instructor at St. Pete Air, are offering three $5,000 scholarships to help high school students obtain a private pilot license.
Sol Life also works with the YMCA and Pinellas County Public Schools to expose children to the world of aviation.
The scholarship opportunities will be published on the group’s soon-to-launch website.
Sue Powers Hoffman
November 2, 2022at1:30 pm
Great article! Can you correct my business is Hashtag Creative.
November 3, 2022at10:14 am
@EdMontanari that vote was 20 years ago. While the positives mentioned in the article are nice, is that really the sum of the return on 100 acres of waterfront downtown property?
If the airport was currently 100 acres of vacant land, there is no way that the city would determine that its highest and best use would be for an airport with the usage of Albert Whitted. The only other argument is that, because 100 years ago they decided to build an airport, we need to keep it for historical sake. That should be up for voters to decide and if city council blocks the city’s due diligence, that would be very disappointing.
November 3, 2022at5:09 pm
Paul, you suggest the voters should decide the use of airport land, and they did in a 75% vote to change the charter of St Petersburg to keep Albert Whitted as an airport in perpetuity. That wasn’t a 5, 10 or 20 year term, it was perpetuity. Highest and best use dollar wise might well be condos, but the same would hold true for the entire waterfront park system, which is protected in the City Charter as well. There are many elements that make a city a desired place to live, but maximum return on dollars is not one of those elements.