ST. PETERSBURG — Standing in a new control tower at Albert Whitted Airport, Jack Tunstill mopped his brow and gazed out the window at the city's skyline. He'd been shaking hand after hand all morning.
"You know, we call that terminal the house that Jack built," one man said, pointing across the tarmac. "What will we call this?"
Tunstill, the chairman of the Albert Whitted Airport's Advisory Committee, was on hand Friday with a slew of local dignitaries and airplane aficionados to cut the ribbon at the airport's new $3.1 million control tower. Officials expect to open the tower for use this fall.
The control tower is the latest in a series of renovations to the small airport by the harbor, many of them spearheaded by Tunstill — a new terminal with a restaurant, the Hangar, was installed in 2007, just four years after the city held a referendum to decide the fate of the then-struggling airport.
Since then, officials have worked to identify problem areas at the airport, one of the biggest being the current control tower, which was installed in 1961. The tower's elevator was broken, its stairs were rusting and the structure was so flimsy that air controllers had to evacuate in winds higher than 47 mph.
The new tower can withstand winds up to 130 mph, officials say — and the elevator works.
The tower is a labor of love, Tunstill said. He and city officials have been working for more than two decades to replace the old one, he said.
"As soon as I could, I came up here almost every day during the construction," he said. "It feels great. This airport is my focus, and it's part of the community."
Mayor Bill Foster, who cut the ribbon alongside former Mayor Rick Baker, said airport patrons should take credit for improvements at the airport.
"You all were part of the energy of the revival of Albert Whitted," Foster said before leading attendees on a tour. "You all are to be commended for your service."