March 3, 2020

It wasn’t long ago that Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) in downtown St. Petersburg, FL faced a threat of closure, driven by interests looking to redevelop the property. A concerted effort by airport supporters drove back those efforts, with residents voting overwhelmingly in 2003 to keep the field open in perpetuity.

Today, airport officials and city leaders are engaged in mutually beneficial discussions to support and improve the airfield. Headlining those efforts is a proposal to expand the airport’s longest runway from its current 3,677-foot length by extending it further into Tampa Bay, as part of a new master plan now under development outlining the airport’s growth over the next decade.

“Currently, the RPZ [runway protection zone] for 7/25 extends over the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus west of the field,” explained Jack Tunstill, chairman of the SPG Airport Advisory Committee and a longtime employee at the airport. “Extending the runway would relocate that onto the airport property, while also allowing the university to add floors to buildings currently limited by FAA height restrictions.”

That, in turn, would create new opportunities for the space-constrained campus to expand and add employees, creating a potential economic impact to the city of close to $400 million according to one analysis cited by the St. Pete Catalyst. Tunstill said the runway extension would also create an approximately 1,500′ breakwater – protecting a new city-owned recreational pier from storm surge waves.

Other ideas under consideration to improve SPG include building new hangars, which Tunstill emphasized are desperately needed at the field that currently averages around 90,000 operations annually. However, those efforts hinge on the city’s plans for a currently vacant wastewater treatment facility east of the field.

“The city’s master plan for that facility is still ongoing, as in that area there are still sewage tanks for storage and processing wastewater,” Tunstill said. “The airport master planning committee has been directed to look at this area and advise what’s reasonable to put there.”

While that and other master plan details still need to be resolved, these discussions demonstrate the renewed, collaborative relationship between the city and its airport.

“People don’t just come to our airport to fly,” said Tunstill. “They come to eat at our restaurant and watch planes from our children’s park. They see it on national television during the 2020 Firestone Grand Prix [Indy Car season opener]. The city now recognizes our airport’s importance to the community, which is a night and day change from 17 years ago.”

Learn more about Albert Whitted Airport.