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    City officials: Tell us who's using airport

    The company that helps run Albert Whitted agrees to disclose information about leases and finances as the city ponders the airport's future.

    By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 24, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- The private company that runs much of Albert Whitted Municipal Airport agreed Friday to disclose who rents the city-owned hangars there and other data about how the airport is used.

    It's information that the mayor and the City Council have not had as they discuss whether to close or upgrade the airport. They know little about who is using it or for what.

    Bay Air Flying Service leases city-owned hangars in bulk, then leases each one out to aircraft owners. It also sells fuel and services to pilots. City staffers said they were curious about who leases the hangars, but they said they didn't have access to the information.

    Mayor Rick Baker said he told his staff Friday to ask Bay Air president Ron Methot for it. The city requested the name and home city of each hangar renter, an overview of Bay Air's financial figures and a breakdown of what sorts of planes fly into Whitted from other cities.

    Methot said yes, and the city expects to receive the information in about two weeks.

    "What I've asked for Ron to do is provide us with kind of an economic analysis of what they believe are the economic benefits of the airport to the city," Baker said. "What I'm looking for is kind of their analysis of why this is a good thing economically for the city."

    Earlier this month, Methot refused to provide the St. Petersburg Times with a list of who rents the hangars. The newspaper requested the information under Florida public records law because Bay Air manages publicly owned property on behalf of the city.

    Methot disagrees that the information is public record. However, he said Friday that he would have happily given the information to city officials if they had requested it before Friday.

    "I never denied the city any request for information," he said. "It wasn't on their desk because they never asked for it."

    City economic development director Ron Barton has argued that a new neighborhood would be a better use of the 110 acres of city-owned waterfront, but airport users say the airport provides an economic benefit to the city and is a valuable training ground for pilots. They say it could provide a greater benefit if the city built a new terminal.

    City development administrator Rick Mussett said Methot's information will be useful as Baker and City Council members compare possible uses for the land.

    "There's probably other economic impacts, but whatever Ron supplies us would certainly capture a big piece of what goes on out there," Mussett said.

    Baker has taken no position in the debate. He has said that the cost of removing a sewage treatment plant from the airport will be important to his decision.

    A draft of a study estimated that it would cost $55-million to $65-million to remove that plant and route sewage to the city's other three plants. Baker said he wants to see the final version of the study, with answers to additional questions he and his staff have posed.

    He's in no rush to make up his mind.

    "I don't really have the money to remove the treatment plant, and I really don't have the money to build a terminal, so there's not really a decision to be made tomorrow," he said.

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