After years of discussions about constructing a new aircraft hangar for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the county has pulled the trigger on moving forward with a lease agreement that will more than double PSCO’s current footprint.
“This has been a nine-year process to get to where we are today when we [first] started talking about replacing this hangar,” Assistant Chief Deputy Dan Danzig said during a Tuesday Pinellas County Commission meeting.
Per the unanimously approved agreement, Fort Myers-based Sheltair Aviation will manufacture the new 43,000-square-foot hangar complex on a 5.14-acre site that would be owned by the county and leased to the PCSO.
The 11,000-square-foot hangar currently utilized by the PCSO was constructed in the mid-1960s on 1.3-acres at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, and is past its useful life.
“We’ve been patching it [the current hangar] here and there to make it work, but it still has a lot of operational issues,” Director of Administrative Services Joe Lauro added.
While the plans have long been debated, the former real estate management and administrative services departments began the site selection process approximately two years ago to craft the lease agreement.
Danzig also informed commissioners that the current site restricts PSCO, as its pilots can’t cross the runway when there is an active commercial flight operation – making it crucial to have a site where PSCO pilots can quickly respond to emergency calls.
The new hangar would be purposefully built to hold the PCSO Flight Unit’s helicopters and at least one airplane. The hangar would contain a climate-controlled repair and parts facility, office space, locker/restrooms, and meeting/training space. It will be designed in a modular format for a future expansion if required by the PCSO.
Construction is expected to take 18 months and wrap up by October 2025.
The lease is coterminous with Sheltair’s prime lease, which expires in 2066, inclusive of two 10-year renewal options. The annual lease would be over $2.267 million.
Although the councilmembers supported the lease, the approval didn’t come without hesitation and concerns associated with the costs and timeline.
“The fact this is being discussed today is giving me great concern because now you’re talking 2025 before it’s done. Honest to God, you’d think there would be a bigger sense of urgency to bring this to closure and get it done before it gets more expensive going forward,” said commissioner Janet Long.
Commissioner Dave Eggers also questioned the overall costs, which over a 10-year period would reach over $20 million.
The current costs include $315,000 in prepaid rent and $1.3 million anticipated in fiscal year 2025 (seven months of rent if the project is completed ahead of schedule).
Diana Sweeney, a deputy director with the county, explained the ground rent equates to $0.57 per square foot. The estimated costs were based on utilities and operating expenses, due to the property not being leased directly.
Todd Anderson, COO for Sheltair, said the lease is a preliminary estimation and hopes the costs will lower – Sheltair and PCSO would only need an acre of the five-acre property for the project as roughly three acres of asphalt are connected to the runway.
He also said the plans are in the conceptual phase and the team does not have permits in hand.
The proposed new hangar site was previously operated as an aircraft fueling operation by Pemco World Air Service. There were four spill events during 1986 and 1987 resulting in the site requiring remediation prior to construction. The remediation is one of the major factors for the delayed project.
Danzig informed commissioners the PCSO has evaluated the 130-acre Airco property, which was the site of a golf course and is the largest piece of undeveloped land in Pinellas County; however, given the navigational constraints, it would affect the deployment time for aircraft.