Albert Whitted Airport, St. Petersburg residents win big in park referendum

April 11, 2003

The polls have closed, the votes are in, and the only losers in the battle over St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) are the developers who were eying the airport for high-rise condos.

"The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is pleased that the voters of St. Petersburg have finally put to rest the threat to this vital and vibrant airport," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Albert Whitted is a gateway that brings much business into the St. Petersburg area. It's also an integral part of the national air transport system, so its fate was an issue for pilots across the country."

By an almost three-to-one margin, St. Petersburg voters chose to keep the bayfront airport open in perpetuity, ignoring a well-financed, highly orchestrated campaign to shut Albert Whitted down and turn half of it into a park.

Because of the national implications of closing Albert Whitted, AOPA took an active hand, working closely with two local airport support groups. AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn made frequent trips to St. Petersburg in the weeks before the election, meeting with city officials to explain the benefits and importance of keeping the airport open. He also met with the airport support groups to determine how AOPA could best help their cause.

The association hired a local political consultant to help spread the message that the airport is important to the city. AOPA also placed television and print advertisements in local media and conducted a direct-mail campaign [see mailer 1 and mailer 2] to give voters accurate information.

Although significantly overmatched financially by their opponents, the two local pro-airport groups mounted effective, highly visible campaigns to educate voters about the true issues at stake. They staged a large rally the evening before the vote, garnering extensive coverage from local television stations.

At the same time, anti-airport activists all but disappeared from view after two polls, one conducted by AOPA and the other by the usually anti-airport St. Petersburg Times newspaper, each found that three out of every four likely voters favored keeping the airport open. Tuesday night's numbers mirrored those polls.

The voters saw through the anti-airport agitators who were backed by large donations from developers and recognized that the other half of the airport could end up high-rise condos that, far from keeping the waterfront open, would block it from view for thousands of residents.

"Although I'm sure it doesn't feel like it now, even those who in good conscience opposed the airport have won, because it benefits the city that they love," said Boyer.

The 400,000 members of AOPA make up the world's largest civil aviation organization. AOPA is committed to ensuring the continued viability, growth, and development of aviation and airports in the United States. These airports are a vital and critical component of a national transportation system.

03-4-086