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City favors consultant to study non-airport uses

Veronica Brezina

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Albert Whitted Airport. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

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. 

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jonathan Ginsberg

    August 12, 2022at3:13 pm

    Great !
    That whole area represents yet another development opportunity for the city,
    Over 100 acres – and it used by so few people……
    Look forward to Mayor Welch and his team’s progress on this.

  2. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    August 12, 2022at7:54 pm

    I am weary after four decades of advocacy, and enraged, that time and again, the uninformed, the aviation illiterate, money grubbing, land grabbing few, attack the jewel that is Albert Whitted.

    I suppose it is time to gather the masses who recognize its value and historical significance for a campaign of support to SAVE ALBERT WHITTED AIRPORT!

    Why are we hiring out of towners to gather facts about the airport. Have we no one left at city hall with adequate brain power to do the job? I’m certain we have qualified staff in the city.

  3. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    August 13, 2022at2:45 am

    Have you ever visited Albert Whitted Airport? Do you know anything at all about the community involvement it has created over the decades, i.e. flying services including refueling for Bayflight helicopters and others, flying lessons, Young Eagles, hangers for planes which bring in revenues and much, much more. Take a trip over there before you decide so quickly. Those of us that have lived here for decades are accustomed but weary of every new mayor wanting to get rid of this historical airport.

  4. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    August 13, 2022at3:00 am

    I agree with you completely,@Donna Kostreva!! It gets tiring having to fight for the airport every decade or so. The voters of St. Petersburg overwhelmingly decided to keep the airport in a referendum in 2004 but I guess new mayor Ken Welch wants to forget all about that and try to remake the city some more. There is so very little left of downtown that is historic and also a money-maker for the city. But it seems every mayor has to try doing this. We will have to call on the AOPA and the FAA once again and host another air show.

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