St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch wants to reevaluate uses for the city’s prime 119-acre waterfront property where Albert Whitted Airport currently operates.
“This has been a whispered conversation [about the potential redevelopment of the site] in this community for a long time … frankly, folks have been afraid to bring it forward because there’s been a lot of pushback [from the airport supporters]. I’m just saying we need to have this conversation,” Welch said to media members Friday, from the steps of City Hall.
The media event followed Welch announcing he had instructed city staff to further study economic and community impacts at Albert Whitted Airport. He stated his goal is to identify the best uses for the city-owned site through the lens of equity, business and the needs of the community.
“At this stage, we are seeking data and information … calling for this study does not mean we have a specific plan for the site,” Welch said.
When the news first surfaced, many speculated it may be due to elevating sites for a new potential Tampa Bay Rays stadium, as the team’s lease is ending at Tropicana Field in 2027 and the Major League Baseball Executive Council has rejected the organization’s sister-city plan, wherein the team would split its games between St. Petersburg and Montreal.
However, Welch said that is not what’s fueling the discussion, and that the talks of the Rays building a waterfront stadium have been discussed for years.
“It was on a list of sites that were looked at [for a Rays stadium]- Gandy, Toy Town,” Welch said, providing examples. “It’s not a new discussion.”
“This has a lot of parallels for me personally between Tropicana Field and the Gas Plant. My focus on the Gas Plant is not the Rays as a priority. It’s that equity development that’s been promised for 35 years. The Rays are important, but they are secondary to that,” Welch said.
“The same issue here is not ‘does a Rays ballpark go there,’ it’s what we do with that 119 acres, and the Rays could certainly be an alternative in that. It’s certainly not driving the conversation.”
He explained how the request for the study emerged as the city was going to conduct another master plan study. The airport property was last studied in 2018, solely on economic impact and heavily focused on the extension of the airport’s runway – but nothing further.
“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,” Welch said on the untapped potential.
Welch added he has started communicating with organizers of the Firestone Grand Prix to collect their input, and stressed this study is truly about looking at the site as “a clean slate” and he does not foresee hi-rise condos and similar development taking shape there.
There isn’t a timeline associated with the study as of yet, or as Welch stated, there’s “no rush” on the study.
Today, the airport is used for private aviation services but doesn’t house any commercial airlines.
The airport recently wrapped up its $4.5 million southwest hangar project, and is planning a $3.7 million project to rehab another runway, construct new taxiways, and update the lighting to LED. The project is being funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration.