AOPA President Phil Boyer, St. Petersburg
Mayor Rick Baker, and Albert Whitted Airport
ASN volunteer Jack Tunstill at the ground-
breaking for the new GA terminal building.
AOPA and local pilots fought. The people spoke. The politicians listened. GA won!
In St. Petersburg, Florida, today AOPA President Phil Boyer, Albert Whitted AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Jack Tunstill, and a collection of local officials, including Mayor Rick Baker, broke ground for a new, $4 million general aviation terminal building overlooking the airport and the waterfront.
Three years ago, Mayor Baker wanted to close the airport. What changed his mind? Local airport advocates, Tunstill, AOPA, and the voters.
"General aviation airports like Albert Whitted are a very important part of the national transportation system, and AOPA is proud to have played a part in determining its future," said Boyer at today's groundbreaking.
In 2003, a long battle to close the airport culminated in a referendum vote. AOPA and local airport supporters waged a massive public relations campaign to educate the voters about the value of their local general aviation airport.
The voters listened and understood. By a three-to-one margin, St. Petersburg citizens voted that the airport should be part of the city forever. The mayor and anti-airport politicians quickly reversed course and committed to making Albert Whitted (SPG) a world-class general aviation facility and a community focal point.
The new two-story terminal building with a restaurant overlooking the airport and waterfront is only the first step.
A million-dollar hangar rehabilitation project has started. A new control tower will be built next year with the help of a $2.2 million FAA grant. The city is planning a $2 million aviation-themed waterfront park next to the airport. "This terminal building is another project that continues to revitalize the city waterfront," said Mayor Baker.
"The referendum vote was really the turning point in the future of the airport and downtown St. Petersburg," said Tunstill. The city also zoned vertical limits on 12 new high-rise condos to help protect the airport.
The new terminal building is being funded in a unique manner by government and private enterprise. The Florida Department of Transportation (FLDOT) is providing grants for 80 percent of the construction costs, but those grants will be paid out over the next five years.
To assure that the building construction could start in 2006 rather than 2011, local citizens John and Rosemary Galbraith (both with aviation backgrounds) gave the city of St. Petersburg an interest-free loan of $3.2 million and a gift of $400,000. The gift is to cover half of the city's part of the grant. That financial arrangement brought the terminal building to life.
"Sometimes the fight to save an airport can seem overwhelming," said Boyer. "Albert Whitted proves that the determined efforts of local pilots and airport supporters, backed up by strong national efforts of AOPA, can make a difference."
April 21, 2006