November 20, 2003
AOPA President Phil Boyer and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker on Wednesday held an extremely productive meeting on the future of Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) and ways the association can help the city.
"Mayor Baker is a good politician, and he recognizes that the voters have spoken," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "He is committed to turning Albert Whitted Airport into a world-class general aviation facility that will be a focal point for the community.
"And as we committed AOPA resources to save the airport, we'll now work hand-in-hand with the city to improve it."
The mayor took two steps the day after the airport vote that clearly showed his commitment to carry through on the voters' mandate. He hired a professional airport manager to run Albert Whitted, and he withdrew his compromise proposal to close one of the runways and use some of that land for development.
Boyer said, "In the mayor's words, he wants to take the rough stone that is Albert Whitted today and turn it into a fine gem. And he wants to be sure that it remains the community's airport."
Long-range plans include adding a terminal and possibly developing an on-airport restaurant that would give the broader community a reason to come down to the waterfront and make use of the airport. The mayor is considering other ideas to make the airport a community focal point.
In the short term, the airport infrastructure needs immediate attention, including runway and taxiway maintenance and repainting a number of the hangars.
Baker told Boyer that he plans to pursue commitments for funding from the Florida Department of Transportation and, now that the voters have approved accepting 20-year federal grants, wants to go after FAA Airport Improvement Program funds.
"That's an area where AOPA can be a real partner with St. Petersburg," said Boyer. "Through our extensive contacts with the FAA and our long history of working to preserve airports, the association understands the ins and outs of AIP grant applications.
"Mayor Baker and I met for over an hour. His enthusiasm for improving the airport was obvious. I walked out of there with a real sense that not only the pilot community, but all of St. Petersburg have come out winners."
[See also AOPA's coverage of the Albert Whitted Airport issue.]
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