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Benoist site approved for St. Pete Pier

Benoist Centennial Plaza will include a monument commemorating the historic first flight.

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council has approved the site for the Benoist Centennial Plaza planned for the new Pier District.

The plaza, which will include a monument to the world’s first airline, will be in the southwest corner of the Pelican parking lot. It is where the hangar for what was to be the inaugural flight of the world’s first commercial airline was located.

The plaza will feature a monument honoring the historic 1914 event, which drew more than 3,000 spectators to the downtown waterfront. Pilot Tony Jannus flew the Benoist Airboat on the St. Petersburg-Tampa roundtrip. His passenger was former Mayor Abe Pheil.

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Will Michaels, president of the nonprofit group Flight 2014 Inc., named for the centennial year of the first flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, said $924,000 has been raised for the project. He told the council that donations have ranged from $25 from individuals to the largest, $400,000 from the William and Katherine McMannis Charitable Trust. Donors have also included Betsy Pheil, a descendant of the former mayor, local firms and the airline industry.

The plaza will feature a life-size sculpture of the Benoist, with Jannus and Pheil in the airboat. The group also hopes to include a full-size statue of Jannus giving his goggles to a little girl, Judy Bryan, after the first flight. Local artist Mark Aeiling has been selected to create the sculptures. Construction of the plaza is expected to begin in September.