The Albert Whitted Airport could be able to tap into additional federal and state dollars despite an attempt from St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch to reject the funds.
During a Thursday St. Petersburg City Council meeting, the members unanimously voted to continue to accept federal and state funds needed to improve the airport from safety and infrastructure standpoints.
The vote comes after an earlier city budget meeting where members discussed the topic of self-funding the airport. The topic emerged as Welch publicly announced he wants to study the 100-acre waterfront site for a potential future different use and/or developments. Welch recently submitted a memo to staff stating he didn’t anticipate any safety issues as a result of not accepting Federal Aviation Administration dollars and instructed staff that emerging safety items could be addressed with non-federal resources.
The city is currently obligated to maintain the existing airport through 2041. When a new federal grant is accepted and utilized, it extends the timeline.
“We have the opportunity to continue using state and federal monies for the repairs and improvements that are needed without having to dip into our own coffers and in exchange, it costs us one extra year of the agreement,” Councilmember Gina Driscoll said, who introduced the resolution, stating it’s “fiscally responsible” for the city to accept these funds.
“We don’t know if the government would release us from our grant obligations, but the reality is even agreeing to these would only add another year,” Lisset Hanewicz said. “I don’t want to use our monies from the general fund for projects that can be covered by grant monies.”
The two safety projects questioned for potential self-funding are the rehabilitation of the airport vault, which also includes adding a backup generator, and the replacement of the existing tower equipment that the federal government decertified.
The two projects total $356,000.
Initially, councilmember Copley Gerdes said the monetary amount of funding budgeted was a relatively small amount. However, he ultimately cast a “yes vote” for the resolution.
Councilmember Ed Montanari reminded the members how significant of a role federal and state dollars have played in helping the once embattled airport becoming one of the top general aviation airports in the state in the early 2000s.
“The way we’ve improved the airport is by taking grants from the FAA and FDOT [Florida Department of Transportation] that fund 78% of the improvements,” Montanari said.
Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Committee member Walt Driggers also spoke in person at the meeting, on behalf of Friends of Albert Whitted Inc., encouraging staff to support the resolution as the city has worked hard to apply for grants.
The Albert Whited Advisory Committee also issued the following statement regarding the council’s decision: “The Airport Advisory Committee and the users of the Albert Whitted Airport are very grateful to the city council with the unanimous vote supporting the resolution to ask the administration to continue receiving FAA/FDOT grants. They recognized that the federal and state governments are an important part of the support airports need to continue in support of the National Airspace System.”
The mayor will now review the council’s recommendation to continue to accept the funds and not self-fund the projects.
The decision does not impact the city administration’s intent to pursue drafting a request for proposals or request for information (which was previously cancelled) to conduct an economic impact study of the airport and study future uses.