By Alyssa J. Miller
Remember the days when you could take the family to the airport for a picnic on a sunny afternoon? The kids could play in the grass while you watched airplanes take off and land. Well, the long lost romantic days of aviation that attracted the community to the local airfield are back, at least for one airport.
Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Fla., celebrated the grand opening of Albert Whitted Park on Feb. 10. Clear skies and balmy temperatures drew families to the event; eager children jumped at the opportunity to test fly the new aviation-themed park, unaware that just five years ago the airport was threatened with closure.
“This was a successful turnaround for the airport. The community has gone from not understanding the value of the airport to supporting and being involved in the airport,” said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, city council members, and state representatives also attended the grand opening to show their support for the airport.
AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Jack Tunstill and local airport supporters were fighting to keep the airport open in 2003. A group wanted to close the airport so that part of the land could be turned into a waterfront park. AOPA worked with Tunstill and local pilots to educate the community of the value of the airport, and when the issue came up for a vote during the 2003 elections, residents voted three to one to keep the airport open in perpetuity.
“Albert Whitted Park is the perfect example of how the community can benefit from a private-public partnership,” Dunn told spectators. The local airport support group, Albert Whitted Airport Preservation Society, designed the park and helped purchase the equipment with the city.
The park, located on six acres on the north side of the airport, not only offers a view of the airport and waterfront, but a children’s playground—complete with a mini-control tower, blimp swing area, and medevac jungle gym. It also offers something for grown-up aviation enthusiasts: a picnic area where you can watch airplanes and listen to radio transmissions.
Now, the airport is thriving and has a new terminal building. And the community still got a waterfront park—one that’s aviation friendly.
February 12, 2008