The new terminal building at Albert Whitted Airport is nearing completion, and by year's end curiosity seekers will be able to sit down for lunch and check out the sights and sounds.
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the two-story, 10,000-square-foot building, which broke ground just over a year ago.
Two businesses are negotiating leases with the city to operate there.
They are a new aviation-theme restaurant concept by Dale DelBello, the owner of Arigato Japanese Steak House, and Bay Air, the current fixed-base operator that manages the airport's flights.
Airport manager Rich Lesniak said there is one more retail area available in the new terminal that may accommodate more than one business. Potential tenants include a rental car company and a charter flight company.
"How the ultimate mix goes hasn't really been determined at this point," Lesniak said. "First and foremost we want to allow more people flying in here, but at the same time it will allow more use for the nonflying public as well."
The terminal will also feature a public viewing area where visitors can watch the planes and helicopters come and go.
The $4-million building is part of the city's response to the 2003 referendum vote that residents made to keep and repair the publicly owned airport, which had been in poor shape.
A grant from the Florida Department of Transportation covered most of the cost, with the city and a private donor picking up the rest.
A big part of the new plan was to make the airport more accessible to the public; hence the restaurant and public viewing areas.
The restaurant is slotted for the upper level of the building, which has lots of windows and room for patio seating, which will offer views of the runway.
It will be DelBello's fourth restaurant in the area.
"If you were to fly around the world, you would be able to stop at different places and eat different kinds of food," DelBello said.
In keeping with that idea, the restaurant will include international foods, reasonably priced, and the ability to listen in to the air traffic control tower communicating with the pilots.
The space will still need to be outfitted with a kitchen and furnishings after the lease is final, so DelBello doesn't expect to be up and running until around the new year.
The terminal will also host Bay Air, the company that supplies gas, hangar leases, rentals and a variety of other services to any pilots or passengers who fly in and out of the airport.
Bay Air owner Ron Methot said the new space will make things easier for both pilots and the public.
"We are the conduit to put the two together and that's what we'll do over here, except we'll do it a lot more efficiently," he said of the business currently operating out of a hangar built in the 1920s.
"We're going to go from having one of the worst facilities in the state to having one of the best for a general aviation field this size," Methot said.
Both of the leases are expected to be finalized by the end of the summer, but additional work on the retail spaces will likely take several more months.
Nick Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 893-8361.