Following Tuesday night's resounding victory for Albert Whitted Airport (SPG), St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker announced Wednesday he will no longer pursue his "compromise" plan to close one of the airport's two runways and sell some land for development. And the city council, six of whose eight members were solidly pro-airport, wasted no time after Tuesday's mandate.
At a council meeting Thursday morning, the board agreed to establish a working group to set priorities for badly needed improvements. Jack Tunstill, AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for Albert Whitted, told the council members that the working group needs to have at least four aviation members—two from each of the local airport support groups. "We are the vested interest," said Tunstill. "We are the people who drove this issue to its conclusion Tuesday night. The working group needs to include our voices."
Tunstill reminded the council that Albert Whitted Airport is more than just a local resource; it's a national one as well. He said the eyes of the public are on the city of St. Petersburg to see what it does now that it's been handed a mandate from the voters. "Our airport is a gem waiting to be polished," he said. "We want to polish it."
With the airport's future secured, the city moved quickly to fill the airport manager's position. On Wednesday Mayor Baker named Richard Lesniak to the post. Lesniak has been the operations manager at nearby St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). While there, he has been responsible for airfield operations and security.
"Between Mayor Baker's decision not to pursue a one-runway option and the council's decisive action, Albert Whitted can no longer be considered an 'at risk' airport," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It just goes to show what a committed group of local pilots backed by the 400,000-strong voice of AOPA can do when we work together."