ST. PETERSBURG — The ruptured relationship between the administrator of Albert Whitted Airport and city officials was repaired in a deal announced Thursday.
In exchange for Ron Methot paying nearly $100,000 he owes the city, Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members have agreed to grant his company, Bay Air Flying Service, a five-year renewal of its contract to operate the city-owned airport. It was set to expire in October.
"It's been quite a mess and quite a journey," Methot said after a committee of council members agreed to the deal. "I think we will see smooth sailing from now on."
The agreement must still be approved by the full City Council. But Foster assured council members that the city won't see a repeat of financial troubles that first emerged in a 2010 audit.
"I'll keep Bay Air on a short leash," Foster said. "If there's a default, it won't accumulate the way it has in the past."
Bay Air signed an agreement to run the airport in 2007, the year that a new terminal was finished. The Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge opened in 2010. Methot complained that city staff was slow to upgrade the facility. A bad economy forced him to make late payments on the monthly lease and he was blindsided by a stormwater bill, he told council members last month.
The amount he owed turned out to be about $85,000, said the city's director of real estate, Bruce Grimes. Combined with an $11,000 promissory note, Methot's total tab was $96,000.
City staff issued a request for other companies to bid on the contract. But with Methot agreeing to pay, Foster said it wasn't necessary to seek another operator.
"Since I've been in office, I've received no complaints about Albert Whitted Airport," Foster told council members. "As far as the operation of the airport, business aside, it's been exceptional . . . I'm not sure the grass would be greener with any other operator."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org