How does Albert Whitted Airport fit with city plans?
Millions of people will have a unique view of St. Petersburg’s Albert Whitted Airport this weekend, as its runway serves as the Firestone Grand Prix’s final straightaway and finish line.
Thousands of people will fill the temporary grandstands for Sunday’s race, televised nationally on NBC. However, many city leaders and stakeholders believe people remain unaware of the facility’s contributions.
State Rep. Linda Chaney made her pitch to business leaders and colleagues at a recent St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon. A staunch proponent of increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) offerings, she said the airport serves a critical importance to the surrounding innovation district and St. Petersburg’s “backbone businesses.”
“We are attracting some worldwide leaders to the St. Pete area, and an airport supports that,” Chaney said. “So, I would like us to keep that airport. It makes sense for your business; it makes sense for innovative businesses, and it makes sense for our workforce.”
Mayor Ken Welch has sought to explore potential uses – including non-aviation – for the 119-acre, city-owned waterfront site. In February 2022, he said, “it could be everything from the extension of our waterpark system south to the expansion of the USF (University of South Florida) Marine Sciences Center or the Maritime Defense and Technology Hub; there could be a lot of possibilities.”
Chaney mentioned that Albert Whitted would support what USF officials hope to create at the St. Petersburg campus. In June 2022, the governor vetoed $75 million in legislative funding for a proposed Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching Facility (EOS) at USFSP.
However, President Rhea Law pledged in January that stakeholders would “continue to work on that until we get it done.” Chaney said she would help lead those efforts.
Alison Barlow, executive director for the St. Petersburg Innovation District and Hub, formally announced details for a “Hub 2” Tuesday before a first-year anniversary event. The new facility would occupy space at Port St. Petersburg, adjacent to the airport, and physically connect to the current Hub.
The airport’s proximity to USFSP and the Hub creates height restrictions for new development.
Welch initiated a consultant selection process last year. City officials subsequently canceled it due to a lack of responses and to refine the proposal’s scope.
While reevaluation efforts have seemingly paused, many stakeholders remain seriously concerned for the airport’s future. Harris Ambush, executive director of Sol Relief, explained what the community, and its international neighbors, could lose.
“(Bayfront Health St. Petersburg’s) Bayflite gets their helicopter maintained there once or twice a week,” Ambush said. “We’ve (Sol Relief) sent out over a million pounds of supplies through over 400 flights. For Hurricane Ian, we had 38 flights where we sent firefighters down the first week.
“If you recall, I-75 was closed, and it was a seven or eight-hour drive (to Ft. Myers). It took us 40 minutes to get there.”
Barlow noted that Innovation District brought over 12,000 people to the USFSP waterfront for a Feb. 20 science festival. Before reaching the interactive exhibits, many noticed a private plane sitting in The Tavern’s on-campus parking lot.
Ambush stood by as people took pictures and helped children into its cockpit. He appreciates those collaborative efforts but feels like the airport, and its tenants, are often overlooked when local leaders discuss the Innovation District’s growth and impact.
He said Albert Whitted’s tenants could “absolutely” support the Hub’s expansion, a reimagined Port St. Petersburg and the university’s – Ambush has a doctorate in education and teaches at USFSP – marine science efforts.
“We do STEM aviation,” Ambush added. “In ‘blue skies’ times, we have field trips here. I’ve been wanting to work with the Hub and create a mutual opportunity for not just youth to learn but adults to learn. There is a lot of collaboration that could be done there. A lot.”
Ambush realizes that many people believe Albert Whitted is a playground for the wealthy. He said they remain unaware that tenants like Sol Relief – through a partnership with Amazon – recently brought 1,500 inflatable solar lights and hundreds of water filtration kits to Puerto Rico, still experiencing infrastructure issues from Hurricane Fiona.
He relayed that the airport’s location in “the heart of the city” predicates its benefits. Ambush also noted the airport houses a flight training school, 25 businesses and at least three nonprofits.
Another emergency helicopter service evacuated babies from critically damaged neonatal intensive care units in Hurricane Ian’s aftermath and brought them to nearby hospitals, he added.
“These are the stories you don’t really hear about,” Ambush said.
City officials scheduled a meeting to discuss the airport’s future Monday, March 6, at 4 p.m. It will occur inside St. Petersburg’s Municipal Services Center, located at 1 4th St. N.
March 2, 2023at4:29 pm
Albert Whitted is all that is mentioned and more. Hundreds of kids have taken flight lessons and have gone on to become airline pilots (we do have a serious shortage) The maintenance hub services hundreds of airplanes that come to Whitted from all over Florida and beyond because of the craftsmanship. I don’t know how many but there are dozens of high-paying jobs at Whitted.
So would another park provide for jobs, No more condos, please. Is there a higher and better use of land? I don’t think so. I am for Whitted and the great people that work and there and Sol Relief and other s that use the space prudently.
March 2, 2023at6:36 pm
March 6th is the historic anniversary of the birth of the visionary genius Michelangelo Buonarroti. He created works that could be considered historical.
Albert Whitted, too has historical significance to the City of St. Petersburg. For over four decades I have watched the money grabbing politicians and Carpet bagger developers roll in an out of town, with eyes on the money they could make from that prime spot of dirt upon which you find Albert Whitted Airport.
Perhaps,they have zero knowledge that it is the very birthplace of commercial flight, and home to Bay Flight who overfly my home nightly in their life saving missions of mercy, lifted on prayers from street level.
In a disaster, AW would be the staging area for emergency relief supplies. Former students have started their professional pilot careers there. AW is home to rare wildlife, and is an asset to St. Petersburg. I am ready for another fight to SAVE ALBERT WHITTED AIRPORT.
March 2, 2023at11:26 pm
Save it. That rant is old and overused. Nothing but chronic noise, pollution and waste of taxpayers money.
You want to learn to fly …. there is an app for that … Simulate. Or run off the end of the end of the 92mm Pier that those god awful flying machine buzz over and the USFSP campus they come inches of ver to land … And sooner than later will come up short.
The one s is re thing aboutuck is that it will change.
Hugh J. Hazeltine
March 6, 2023at3:22 pm
The city accepted funds and signed a Public Transit Grant Agreement(PTGA) with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in 2021 that comes with an obligation to operate the airport for 20 years.
March 7, 2023at3:15 pm
Did the advertised meeting regarding future use of the airport occur on 3/6 at the municipal services building as identified in this article? I’d hoped to attend but was unable. What occurred?
I’m very much support Albert Whitted. It is historic and one of few remaining downtown airports. It is an asset to the innovations district & St Pete.
Hugh J. Hazeltine
March 9, 2023at1:45 pm
The meeting on March 6 was an evaluation committee meeting for the study of AWAP. It was chaired by the Director of Engineering and capital improvements Brejesh Prayman. The committee was composed of Airport Manager Rich Lesniak, Mellissa, Brian, and by Purchasing Manager Steven Poceous. The rules were: Members of the public could speak for 3 minutes at the start. No one chose to speak. During the meeting the public could attend by could not comment or ask questions. Rich Lesniak started the meeting by asking if he was to be a technical consultant or an evaluator on the committee. Brejesh advised him he was an evaluator. This was an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) meeting to decide if those who proposed to do the study were qualified. Each committee member spoke about the qualifications of two companies that submitted, HRNA and DKNY. It was decided to invite the two companies back for a 10 minute presentation followed by 20 minutes of Q&A. The date for that meeting is to be determined.