The city’s evaluation committee will now pursue conversations with HR&A Advisors as the consultant to study non-aviation uses at the Albert Whitted Airport site.
The city received two proposals from consultants vying to study what type of development could occur at the 100-acre waterfront site – one from New York-based HR&A and another from Alpha Sol LLC; however, during a Friday (Aug. 12) meeting, the committee deemed Alpha Sol’s submittal as unresponsive and favored moving forward with HR&A.
“The team [HR&A] is very talented,” said committee member Brian Caper, manager of public-private partnerships for the city. Caper disclosed he previously worked with HR&A when former mayor Rick Kriseman hired HR&A to help officials assess the initial four Tropicana Field redevelopment project proposals.
Additionally, HR&A would work with urban planning firm HOK for the airport study.
Multiple members stated how the study of the site’s potential uses should extend beyond analyzing traditional development.
“We need to have more of a discussion on what the city’s expectation is for this – the infrastructure, how do we get there. There’s a lot of burdens that need to be contemplated that really wasn’t reflected in the proposal, that’s something we can certainly work with them on as we put together a scope of services,” Caper said, adding how HR&A mentioned the Community Benefits Agreement program in its proposal and it highlighted how it could do a “bulky” deep-dive feasibility analysis.
“Maybe it makes sense to do this [a possible redevelopment/reuse] or it doesn’t, that’s something they could help us with,” Caper said.
The discussion follows the committee’s decision last week to continue to engage with Kimley-Horn on its proposal to study the existing economic impact of the airport and the future economic impact based on aviation uses.
The plan to evaluate both scenarios (a future with aviation and with non-aviation uses) with separate consultants comes after St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said he instructed city staff to further study the economic and community impacts of the city-owned airfield.
“These guys have a lot of experience in mass-scale projects like they did with the Trop,” Albert Whitted Airport Director Richard Lesniak said. “At the end of the day, we are supposed to have two proposals that not just weigh the pros and cons and economic benefits, but what’s the burden of going down this path? The reality is we aren’t talking about virgin property. The airport is already there, entrenched.”
Lesniak provided the example of how the City of Santa Monica in 1981 passed a resolution to close its airport. After a series of legal battles, the city was granted the right to close the Santa Monica Airport in 2028 – a nearly 50-year period since the resolution was approved.
“That’s a lot of time, money,” he said, noting how there are numerous obstacles and challenges that a developer would have to overcome if the redevelopment of the site came into play, including the consideration that the majority of the airport is in a coastal high hazard zone.
Today, the airport doesn’t house commercial airlines; however, it has operated for 100 years and serves numerous aviation businesses ranging from charter flight operators to companies providing flight training.
During the Friday meeting, Albert Whitted Advisory Committee members in attendance asked the evaluation committee a list of questions, including:
- If the selected vendor(s) will be required to provide cost estimates with their final report with the projected cost of removing buildings to prepare the site for other uses.
- If the selected vendor(s) is required to integrate their proposed alternative uses with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg races in the future.
- If the selected vendor(s) will be required to provide any environmental assessments of their proposed alternative uses impact on the waterfront or downtown area.
- If the vendors will be required to address the wastewater master plan that affects the subject property and integrate the plan into the alternatives.
- The estimated cost to deal with the existing wastewater facility.
The questions were also submitted via email.
The next step is for the committee to interview HR&A via a Zoom call.
The estimated cost for the studies will not be determined until the negotiation period.