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Council gets peek at Albert Whitted plans

The plan calls for closing the airport and using the land for city parks and a condominium project.

By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- The city unveiled a plan Thursday for redeveloping the area of Albert Whitted Airport and the Bayfront Center into a 40-acre waterfront park and urban neighborhood worth an estimated $814-million.

At the City Council's request, city economic development director Ron Barton presented his study for redeveloping the 110-acre Albert Whitted property and the adjacent Bayfront center property.

Barton's scenario called for tearing down the Bayfront Arena and removing the sewage treatment plant at the airport. The plan calls for keeping the city port, the Coast Guard station, Florida Power Park, and the Mahaffey Theater and Bayfront parking garage.

The airport would be closed, with the waterfront area of the property becoming new parks. The other 82 acres of land in the interior of the airport would become an "urban neighborhood" of low-rise condominiums similar to Harbour Island in Tampa.

Barton estimated a developer would pay $150-million for the land and build the buildings with private money. Eleven acres near First Street would be set aside for commercial development, with 71 acres for homes.

The project could bring in some $20-million in new property tax, about 31 percent of what the government expects to collect in the whole city this year.

The development might not begin for up to 10 years, and it might take up to 10 years to build in phases, Barton said.

Council members listened intently but said they would need more research before approving such a plan. Voters also would have to approve it.

The City Hall conference room was packed with airport supporters, many of them pilots or airport business owners. The group is well-organized and has been monitoring the issue and lobbying the council while many city residents are just becoming aware of the debate.

The council's big question: cost. A consultant already is studying removing the sewage plant, a project that could cost tens of millions of dollars. Council members wondered if there might be environmental cleanup costs for airport land.

Barton promised to work up specific cost estimates to determine whether sale of the development land would mean the city would profit, break even or lose money. Council members also asked for estimates on the economic benefits of renovating the airport.

"We have to make sure whatever we do, people looking back from history will think we've used it to the highest best use, and that we pursued it with due diligence," council member Jay Lasita said.

Hobbyist pilot and Albert Whitted Airport proponent Sherman Seaborn left the meeting satisfied.

"They're looking at a lot of suppositions as far as those numbers are concerned," he said. "There's a lot more that needs to be looked at."

Also Thursday, the council unanimously approved new three-year contracts for the Police Benevolent Association and Fraternal Order of Police. The contracts guarantee officer raises for the next three years.

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Discuss this story with the reporter and with other Times readers online at forums.sptimes.com under the category "In the news" and the topic, "Albert Whitted Airport -- should it stay or go?"

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