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With land use change, county makes initial move toward closing Airco Golf Course

The control tower for the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport looms beyond a golfer at Airco.

Times files (2008)

The control tower for the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport looms beyond a golfer at Airco.

Pinellas County officials are moving forward with plans to one day close Airco Golf Course and allow private development of the nearly 130-acre site.

The course, which is part of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, opened in 1961 and offers area golfers an alternative to more expensive private courses.

Don't expect Airco to close soon, though. Development remains a distant objective of county leaders.

"As far as the golf is concerned, it's as usual," said Larry Thomas, a county employee who manages the course. "We are open for business seven days a week."

Coming forward are two land use changes for the site. One would allow a hotel development on 10 acres; the other would permit aviation, office and industrial uses on an adjacent 118 acres.

The proposals come before the County Commission on Nov. 17 but consideration of final approval won't happen until March, said economic development director Mike Meidel.

Officials said there had been some interest from private developers in the smaller hotel site, but nothing concrete, and there are concerns whether any project could succeed in these hard economic times.

There have been no overtures regarding the larger 118-acre parcel, Meidel said, but it's hoped by changing the land use, the site will become more attractive to private developers.

In November, the County Commission agreed to explore closing Airco and building there. The decision was made after a feasibility study that suggested limiting the intensity of the project to avoid additional levels of review by state regulators.

Then, as now, the surrounding road network is inadequate. The commission agreed key road projects, like a connector between Bayside Bridge and 118th Avenue, and a limited access highway linking U.S. 19 and Interstate 275, need to be done before the site is built out.

It will be at least 2015 before the two road projects are in place, said county planner Al Bartolotta.

Meidel said he expects some portions of the Airco site to be built on before others.

"We want to go gradually," he said. "It's going to be a phased development, but this really is the first step."

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 727-445-4166.

With land use change, county makes initial move toward closing Airco Golf Course 08/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 12:12am]
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