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Plans for Whitted terminal take flight

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Plans for Whitted terminal take flight

State grants, city dollars and a generous benefactor have combined to fund a $4-million terminal.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer

Published March 18, 2005

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ST. PETERSBURG - Supporters of Albert Whitted Municipal Airport have long wanted a terminal to make the facility a first-class operation.

An artist painted a picture of such a building in 1993. Five years later, the city embraced a site plan that included a Mediterranean-style terminal on the northwest corner of the airport.

Bonds were even issued to pay for the terminal, but environmental problems sucked away the money.

Thursday, plans for the terminal took flight - this time for certain.

Mayor Rick Baker announced a detailed plan to build a $4-million general aviation terminal through a combination of state grants, city dollars and a generous benefactor.

"It is a great moment I think for the airport," Baker said from a rusty hangar that now acts as the terminal for the 78-year-old airport. "I'm not even sure you could consider what we have right now a terminal."

The Florida Transportation Department sent the mayor a letter Wednesday, committing to pay for 80 percent of the project, or $3.2-million. The funds would be distributed annually through 2011.

The grants require the city to come up with the remaining 20 percent for the 10,600-square-foot terminal.

Retired mutual fund executive John Galbraith, a pilot and local aviation enthusiast, agreed to donate $400,000 of the city's share. The city will come up with the rest, though an exact funding source has not been decided, Baker said.

Galbraith, who has made generous gifts to the Florida International Museum and Eckerd College, relocated his securities business to St. Petersburg after seeing an advertisement for Bayfront Tower condominiums next to "beautiful Albert Whitted Airport."

He kept a plane at the airport for 20 years, and his daughter learned to fly from an instructor there.

"I've been all wrapped up in flying almost my whole life," said Galbraith, 83, who has lived at Bayfront Tower since 1978. "The airport needs a terminal to be healthier, busier and more attractive."

Galbraith's generosity doesn't stop with his contribution. He has agreed to give the city an interest-free, $3.2-million loan so the construction can begin on the terminal within a year.

Otherwise, Baker said, the terminal could not be built until 2011. The work will take nine months, and the city will pay Galbraith back over six years.

"It's just incredible what John has done," said Jack Tunstill, a longtime airport supporter. "The change in the waterfront is going to be significant."

Planes have flown from the Albert Whitted site since 1917, but it wasn't officially christened until 1927. The airport bustled throughout the 1930s and '40s, first as home to one of the nation's earliest commercial airlines, National Airlines, and then as a naval training base during World War II.

It is a hub for some charter planes and smaller private planes, with about 200 aircraft based there.

Design plans for the terminal will be tweaked and updated. It will include lounge areas for pilots and passengers, restaurant space and business offices. It will be built on vacant land at the intersection of First Street S and Bayshore Drive, across the street from the new Salvador Dali Museum.

In 2003, voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum to preserve the airport.

Council member and pilot James Bennett said the terminal's construction proves the city is committed to the airport.

"It's what airport supporters have wanted for a long time," he said. "Now they're going to see it coming out of the ground."

Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 892-2273 or [email protected]

http://www.sptimes.com/2005/03/18/news_pf/...itted_ter.shtml

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This is good news for the airport, itself. However, I think it would be in downtown St. Pete's best interest to close the airport down and redevelopment the waterfront property into some type of high density mixed use development.

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