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How St. Pete-Clearwater airport officials plan to sustain growth

Veronica Brezina



The taxiway at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Photo: James Borchuck.

A new report released by the state shows that St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is a robust economic asset in the local region, despite some setbacks. 

In the report released this week by the Florida Department of Transportation, it indicates the airport is responsible for generating $3.4 billion in total economic impact, creating 20,774 direct and indirect jobs.

Visitor spending impacts alone generated an additional 11,760 jobs, $451 million in payroll, and a total economic impact of over $1.4 billion, according to the 2022 Florida Statewide Aviation Economic Impact Study.

Director of Public Relations Michelle Routh said FDOT completes the impact report every few years. The last report was done in 2018, valuating PIE’s impact at $2.58 billion. 

“The newest data collected was from last year and includes data based on a 2021 survey collected while we were still enduring the pandemic. People were cutting back on jobs and positions,” Routh said. 

In addition to the report, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also recently named PIE the 2022 Airport of the Year in the small to medium-sized category. TSA officials credited “outstanding team achievements” for creating “measurable improvements, superior performance and low passenger wait times while successfully navigating through record-breaking passenger volume.”

Although the airport has won accolades and recognition for its successes, it’s facing an uphill battle in attracting new flights and managing parking. 

Pushing through turbulence 

Bouncing back from the pandemic, PIE set an all-time passenger record in 2022, seeing over 2.44 million passengers, representing a 20% increase over 2021 and a 7% increase over 2019. However, PIE is currently experiencing a dip in passenger activity. 

“We don’t anticipate any new destinations this year. When Swoop Airline and Sun Country Airlines came on board in 2021, they offered year-round flights, but they are now doing it seasonally,” Routh said. 

The airlines predominantly serve the Canadian market, which is the top international travel destination from Tampa and St. Pete. 

“Swoop still serves Hamilton, Ontario, but competition-wise, they decided to not bring back the Toronto flights,” Routh said. “Our goal is to bring in new airlines and connections. Allegiant [the primary airline serving PIE] is a large part of that. They have expanded service in over 130 airports, and we have connections to 59 of them.” 

Routh explained the airport is also hindered by its limited jet bridges, holding rooms and parking. 

To mitigate the parking woes, PIE is planning to open 500 additional spaces in what’s referred to as the Strawberry Lot, which will become the primary lot on the north side of Roosevelt Boulevard. 

“No one was building parking lots during the pandemic, projects got delayed rather than expedited,” Routh said. The project was expected to commence earlier this year, but it is now on target for December.

“We’d like to have a parking garage, but that is years out if we get rolling on it,” she added. 

The airport relies on its social media accounts to inform the public of when the parking lot has reached capacity as it may cause passengers to miss their departing flights. PIE advises travelers to consider hailing a ride to the airport or carpooling. 

Several mid- to large-size airports offer parking reservation systems, which can be very costly solution. 

“We are a pay-as-you-go airport. We don’t have debt,” Routh said. “We really try to do our very best to be customer-focused and some of these things are challenging.”

Reshaping the airport 

Despite the parking issue and stagnant flight activity, an overhaul of PIE’s terminal will address many of the headwinds. 

In April, the airport’s selection committee tapped New York-based aviation consultant group C&S Companies to spearhead the massive $105 million undertaking, which entails building a new passenger boarding level on the second floor and adding more aircraft parking spaces. Currently, the airport has ground-level boarding. 

Through the multi-phase plan, the airport will reconfigure the current concession area, as it does not serve customers post-security. PIE will also reconfigure the two-checkpoint design into a single large checkpoint for two terminals.  

The plan also calls for consolidating TSA (Transportation Security Administration) checkpoints, expanding the holding rooms, and adding more concession space and vendors. 

In a later phase, a narrow building for aircraft would extend to the north and bring additional gates.  

A rendering of the terminal expansion. Image provided by the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

The airport is poised to receive numerous local and federal grant dollars to fund the reconfiguration and terminal expansion, which is expected to be completed by 2029. 

Sperate from the expansion, the airport will be activating a vacant 130-acre property with a new taxiway adjacent to the existing runways. 

The Airco site, which served as a golf course that closed in 2011, is the largest piece of undeveloped land in Pinellas County. 

The taxiway will give the greenlight to the airport to capitalize on the large stretch of land and attract more tenants. 

Typically, the types of tenants utilizing airport properties beyond commercial airlines range from maintenance repair operators to flight schools, and e-commerce firms that need proximity to airports. 

An earlier analysis of the Airco site showed it could accommodate 354,000 square feet of aviation-related buildings. 

While the site totals 130 acres, Routh said 80 acres, or roughly 60% of the site, is the only developable portion of the land due to the floodplain. 

Eighteen acres are zoned for aviation use. The remaining acreage is designated for light industrial use, as well as a parcel for a future hotel. 

Airport administrators expect to see proposals from developers following the taxiway completion. 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Tom Riley

    June 11, 2023at3:00 pm

    Bad planning. Not aggressive. Still same old uncovered gates.
    Air o should still be an affordable golf course. It’s an eyesore.
    Management my brag about debt free but the facilities won’t attract more flights. Borrow the money and get this joint updated. It’s still like when I flew in in ‘62.

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