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Small airports can be real asset to a community

Re: Sold short, editorial, Nov. 15.

The editorial shows a bias against the flying public as well as an incredible ignorance of the value of aviation to the community.

There have been extensive upgrades to terminal and other facilities at Lakeland, Marathon, Tallahassee, Sebring, St. Augustine and Orlando Executive, just to name a few. These facilities tend to draw both tourists as well as businesspeople who rely on air transportation. If you fly into Lakeland on a Sunday there are typically more than 50 people having brunch, both visitors as well as local people, who come to enjoy the environment. The same is true at Sebring, where the new terminal and restaurant draw a steady flow of customers and where industry growth is obvious.

Small airports with adequate facilities and good marketing bring in huge crowds. Sun 'n Fun Fly-in at Lakeland brings hundreds of visitors for a week every year. Orlando hosts the General Aviation Manufacturers Association which fills the hotels for a week. The many improvements that we have seen in downtown St. Petersburg in the last 10 years did not occur without major private investment. These people tend to fly. On the other hand, when an investor flies into our local airport and invests a million dollars in the community, there is no record of the investment in the airport log. It does not show up as a "profit" to city or to the airport.

A well-managed and well-marketed airport does bring investment, tourism and economic growth to any community in which there is adequate support. It makes no sense to eliminate a source of tourism as well as capital investment to the community. As a pilot and aircraft owner, as well as real estate investor for more than 25 years, I can attest that these opinions are well-grounded.

Congratulations to the City Council of St. Petersburg for seeing through the fluff and making a sound and democratic decision on this issue.

Mark E. Reinecke, St. Petersburg

A hazard for aviation

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker's proposal for Albert Whitted airport could be particularly dangerous. Here is why:

The north-south coastlines of both the gulf and bay ensure sea breezes blowing east and west. Weather fronts can generate strong east-west winds. Crosswind landings are challenging even for experienced pilots. This is why airports normally have runways oriented in several directions _ so that aircraft can take off and land into the wind.

To this mix, add multistory buildings to the immediate west of the north-south runway. Imagine a moderate breeze (more than 20 knots) blowing from the west. Westerly winds must flow over and between the buildings, thereby generating turbulence. The mayor's proposal forces crosswind landings aggravated by building-induced turbulence.

The mayor's well-intentioned plan makes sense from a real estate viewpoint, but engineering knowledge predicts it will be an aviation hazard.Bill Bassett, Clearwater

Council member treated poorly

Re: City Council member James Bennett.

After living in St. Petersburg for 25 years, my husband and I recently moved to Manatee County. We have the Times delivered to our new home so that we can stay abreast of what is happening "up north." Articles we always read with interest are any having to do with our long-time friend, City Council member James Bennett.

Having read most of the articles you have printed that mention Mr. Bennett, my husband and I have noticed that you seem to be working overtime to make him look bad. We are very familiar with Mr. Bennett's dedication to the city and residents of St. Petersburg. He loves St. Petersburg. He loves working to make the city the best it can be. Jamie listens to the people and acts accordingly and professionally. On the other hand, the Times seems to be driven by its own personal agenda. Because the Times is against Albert Whitted Airport, you have stooped to low levels of name-calling and belittling people. Anyone who supports the airport is a "zealot." Mr. Bennett is their "cheerleader."

I have spoken with Jamie after reading articles that quote him in a less than flattering manner, wondering what he may have been thinking when he made his remarks. The truth seems to be that the Times' reporters ignore much of what he actually says, and concentrate on any bit of the interview that might make him look bad.

I have always respected the quality of the St. Petersburg Times, but that respect is dwindling fast. I can only hope that the people who will be voting in the next election will look beyond your unflattering, untrue portrayal of Mr. Bennett and see for themselves all that he has contributed during his time as a council member.

Patricia McAtasney, Ellenton

Best option already eliminated

I'm disappointed in the St. Petersburg City Council. The council members made a decision to eliminate the original "Waterfront Redevelopment Strategy" from options for the use of the Albert Whitted Airport land. While professing great appreciation for public debate, they decided first to eliminate the most sensible and optimistic vision before setting a January date for public input. Except for Jay Lasita, who appealed to the council for a public debate on all options, I don't know what this normally community involved group of leaders was thinking. But one thing is obvious: They heard the airport lobby and didn't want to hear anything else.

Albert Whitted Airport is an asset that is overvalued. No amount of reconfiguring the surviving options can provide the benefits that a park and small community on this land would have given us. The smartest use for this property is being hidden behind the exaggerated economic impact of accessibility to flying corporate executives, confusion and fear of development, and the romantic appeal of watching airplanes taking off and landing.

Airport supporters used the scare tactic that the Airport Redevelopment Plan was simply an effort to remove the airport and replace it with condos on the water. They never mentioned that 40 acres of new waterfront park would be established balancing the northern waterfront with the largely ignored south and that not a single building was going to be built on the bay.

What is really needed to revive downtown is people. Lots of them. The 8,000 residents that could have populated the proposed new community would have restored the density once enjoyed in the 1950s. This community would have been a real asset to the businesses and social vivacity of downtown, not to mention the tax revenue.

This could have been a successful small community development that would also have helped ensure the successes of the economic redevelopment in the Dome, Grand Central, and Midtown districts.

Instead, City Council voted for keeping a wasteland of asphalt so that the simple pleasure of watching airplanes and a sweet dream of Big Bucks could soar and roar around our downtown.

Kai R. Warren, St. Petersburg

Time to quit whining

Re: Sold short.

The Times Editorial Board is whining worse than a 2-year-old late for a nap. Because the St. Petersburg City Council did not vote just the way you had ordered in previous editorials, you act as though they are not deserving of relevance.

The Baker plan for Albert Whitted Airport, while seemingly a good compromise over turning the entire area into a giant condo simply will not fly with the FAA. Airports, especially those that take federal funds, are federally regulated. The master plan city officials are considering is not set is stone, but simply a guide toward maximum utilization of the available space from the aviation perspective.

I find it hard to understand how a newspaper that depends almost entirely on advertising revenue from small businesses, can be so anti-business. Albert Whitted not only can pay its own way, but given the support is has not had for the past 20 years, it can also generate positive cash flow. You seem to have ignored the millions in economic impact the airport provides not just to St. Petersburg, but to the entire bay area.

As best I can remember, the St. Petersburg Times was not on any recent ballot. So quit whining! Let those who were elected run the city and its only airport.

Dennis Roper, Clearwater

Airport now, park later

Re: Stewardship of the city-owned Albert Whitted waterfront, by Thomas Reese, Nov. 9.

The article was a thinly veiled attack on the continued use of the property as an airport and in support of the Times' position that it should be used for high-rise residential buildings and some as a public park. I cannot fathom why anyone, including the Times, would support the use, takeover or sale of such prime land for anything other than a public park. To put residences of any type there would cater to the wealthy; there would be nothing affordable for the average St. Petersburg resident, who would then be unwelcome.

Too much land for a park? Go see the parks in Louisville, Ky., Dallas or even New York's Central Park.

Many of us view the airport as a good steward of the land while the city grows into the understanding that a park for everyone should be its only use for generations 30 to 50 years from now.

If the city needs a greater tax base, condemn/convert blighted land for the high-rises as it did to build the baseball stadium (which generates no property tax revenue, now).

Randy A. Mabry, Seminole

Tobacco company tactics

I am deeply disappointed that the St. Petersburg Times would include Philip Morris' slick new public relations tool kit in its Nov. 13 edition. While the piece alleges to promote information about quitting smoking, it simultaneously states their core business as "manufacturing and marketing the best quality tobacco products to adults who choose to use them." What about the thousands of mature adults who are too addicted to consider smoking a "choice"'; or the thousands who are suffering from the deadly effects of those "quality" products?

If Philip Morris cared one iota about youth smoking prevention and helping smokers quit, it would immediately stop spending millions of dollars to lobby against proven effective tobacco control measures in Florida. Make no mistake, the successful campaign we waged in support of Amendment 6 was necessary because the tobacco companies wield incredible power in the Legislature. For more than 20 years, we worked to strengthen clean air legislation in this state but the tobacco industry ensured that the will of the people would not be the law of the state. Thanks to the Nov. 5 election, Floridians have spoken and we have taken a giant step toward better public health.

On Thursday, the American Cancer Society will celebrate its 26th annual Great American Smokeout _ a day when millions of smokers will try to break their addiction, and the ones they love hope they will succeed. If Philip Morris is serious about being a responsible company, it will end its marketing practices that addict kids in Florida and around the world, stop opposing effective measures to reduce tobacco use, and join the public health community in supporting legislation before Congress to grant the FDA real, effective authority over tobacco products.

Carol Hagans, RN, volunteer, American Cancer Society,

Pinellas Unit, St. Petersburg

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