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Council opposes self-funding Albert Whitted Airport

Veronica Brezina

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Albert Whitted Airport's sign. File photo (2019).

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. 

She noted how there are numerous projects such as the city’s municipal marina and the MSC building, which are deteriorating and will need local funding commitments. 

“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. 

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    September 17, 2022at3:22 pm

    Thank you, City Council, for bringing back fiscal sanity to the AW issue.

  2. Avatar

    Jonathan Ginsberg

    September 17, 2022at3:29 pm

    This particular vote is one leaf on the tree of a larger conversation:

    Is the airport, really the highest and best use for those 100 plus acres on the bay front?

    Why should so much land, be used by so few?

    Mayor is right to look long and hard at alternate uses of this precious land.

  3. Avatar

    Ron

    September 17, 2022at3:54 pm

    @ginsberg …short sighted viewpoint…you have NO idea how MANY folks are impacted by the airport..I, for one, relocated to SP because of the airport and have spent $1000’s in taxes and investments into the community…all because of that little airport…What do you propose? High rises for the rich or projects for the poor? :).

  4. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    September 17, 2022at7:43 pm

    Jonathan Ginsberg, when that one tree of yours is blown away in a hurricane we will be able to use AW to fly in much needed supplies, and save lives with Bay Flight. Just because you are unfamiliar with asset AW is to the entire community, does not mean it is not one.

    I live right downtown and see nothing but darkness from innumerable windows on the speculators’ high rise constructions. We don’t need more of them.

    This mayor is not even aware of what’s going on in his own administration let alone AW.

  5. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    September 19, 2022at4:45 pm

    I understand the Mayor needs a voice here but simply parroting too big/too few is not a wise one. I’ve said this repeatedly and clearly need to say it again. The mercy flights for All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Hospital save children’s lives, bring in organ transplants and other vital medical supplies. I’m confident no sane person would deny the value of those flights, including you.
    On another note the land is only 8 feet above sea level, very little can be built on it for future use much less a new ball park for the Rays or any type of permanent housing.
    Finally, a lot can happen in 19 years, just look at 2018 vs 2022 to know the truth of time.I don’t think it’s wise to fight a future that has yet to arrive when there are so many current pressing issues, like staffing, that need immediate attention.

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