ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Should Albert Whitted Airport stay or go? It’s a burning issue that has been discussed for decades, according to St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch. His administration has launched an in-depth study to find out the economic and community impact.
“We need to have a full overview of the current advantages. Who is using it ? What is the use? Ultimately, it’s not my decision, it’s the people’s decision,” Welch said.
He told 8 On Your Side that it was just an open conversation and that they don’t have a specific plan for public ownership. “That’s the purpose of the study, to see what the possibilities are. He might come back that he has the perfect use now, but we have to ask this question. But he does not deny that there are other uses.
“It could be anything from expanding our shoreline park system south to some expansion of USF, the Marine Science Center, the maritime defense center. There are just a lot of possibilities, so let’s pause, let’s see what is the best use in the future,” Welch said.
Not everyone is a fan of this plan. Rand Snell is a local pilot. He said the airport is useful not only to the users and businesses housed there, but to the city as a whole. In a week it will be used for the Firestone Grand Prix race at St. Pete.
“You have business people all over the country coming to Albert Whitted Airport instead of going to PIE and Tampa International because it’s convenient. They come in, do their business and leave, but they create economic value,” Snell said.
He said the aviation community was caught off guard by Mayor Welch’s announcement.
“He didn’t have that conversation with us. There is an established airport board and it did not approach us. It didn’t go to any of the individual users, St. Pete air,” Snell said,
Snell hopes to sit down with the mayor soon to discuss the future of this historic entity.
“I hope he would at least be open to realizing how important the airport is to a lot of people and the benefits it brings to the greater community,” Snell said.
Mayor Welch said there was no real timeline for this study. As the conversation develops, he says there will be opportunities for community discussions.