Albert Whitted Destruction Hinges On November 4th Vote
The issue seems
clear-cut when you first get into it. Should St. Petersburg keep
the Albert Whitted airport in a move eerily reminiscent of the
Meigs Field controversy (ANN: "Friends of Meigs: 'Storm Trooper
Tactics' Close Meigs -- 31 March 2003) the mayor of St.
Petersburg (FL) wants to turn Albert Whitted Airport into a park.
Or halfway into a park. It's a little confusing, once you get into
it. The entire issue, however, revolves around a ballot issue
Airport and park supporters have been fighting over Whitted's
future since May. That's when Citizens for a New Waterfront Park
kicked off a campaign to put a question on the November ballot
asking residents whether they want to replace the airport with
The AOPA is involved, much to the chagrin of local elected
officials. The general aviation advocate has pledged $100,000 to
fight efforts to turn Whitted into a park.
The plan calls for St. Petersburg to spend up to $42 million in
destroying the airport and either turning it into a park or turning
half of it into a park and selling off the rest. Albert Whitted
handled 102,000 operations between April 2002 and May 2003. That
compares to 200,000 landing/take-off operations at St. Petersburg
International and 237,000 a year at Tampa International. It's not
like Albert Whitted isn't a busy place.
Tunstill says the campaign has turned ugly, with the opposition
now resorting to theft to take out airport support. "We found 53 of
our yard signs in a dumpster," says Jack Tunstill, head of a group
that wants to keep the airport running. "Actually, they were in a
recycling bin. (A local television station) reported that more
signs were found in and around the offices of an attorney who says
we should turn it into a park."
Tunstill says three-quarters of St. Petersburg residents polled
don't want the airport to go away. He
says they don't want to face the tax burden associated with
redeveloping the facility into park land. He also says Pinellas
County (FL) and the government in St. Petersburg haven't thought
the issue through to completion.
Or maybe they have.
Two of the biggest advocates for turning the airport into a city
park are associated with real estate development, he says. One
option in the redevelopment plan calls for only 50 percent of the
airport to be developed into parkland. That leaves a big question
mark about the other 50 percent.
Tunstill says, if the measure should pass, voters will
eventually decide they don't want to pay the tab for converting 100
percent of the airport to parkland and will opt to allow the city
to sell half the land off to developers by 2011. The St. Petersburg
Times reports, of the $101,000 raised by pro-park forces so far,
$80,000 has come from just two donors: Attorney Larry Beltz and
developer James McDougald. Tunstill figures those two men have an
eye on the future, planning for a day when they can develop the
portion of the airport not reserved as a park.