Albert Whitted Airport looks to expand runway into deeper Tampa Bay waters

Published Nov. 18, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Stretching a runway into the waters of Tampa Bay from Albert Whitted Airport is an idea embraced by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

But it hasn't exactly made a splash with the City Council.

Yes, the council unanimously approved a $50,000 feasibility study, mostly paid for with state funds, at its Nov. 12 meeting. But several council members raised environmental concerns about plans to add 1,300 to 1,800 feet to the east-west runway at the waterfront airport.

"I'm not real excited about tearing up the bay," council member Steve Kornell said.

Airport manager Richard Lesniak said the extension would accommodate larger corporate jets, making the city more attractive to executives looking to relocate their headquarters. The extension would also allow planes landing from the west to start their descent later. That would allow future development in the "Innovation District" surrounding the University of South Florida St. Petersburg to include taller buildings, he said.

"We have no visions of landing 747s," Lesniak said. "This is for small and medium corporate jets."

An added benefit of the runway, Lesniak said, would be that it would buffer Pier Park and the boat basins on the waterfront. The runway would act as a breakwater, calming the water and mitigating damage during storms.

The study should take four months. After that the city would need the permission of the Federal Aviation Administration and undertake an extensive environmental assessment.

Nautical maps show the area in Tampa Bay contemplated for the runway is a "spoil area."

A spoil area is where dredging debris has been dumped. It's not always environmentally damaged. Some spoil areas have made good habitat for marine life.

Kriseman supports the plan because of its economic development and corporate recruitment potential, spokesman Ben Kirby said.

Council member Darden Rice was skeptical that the proposal would make it past the federal environmental hurdles and even less certain that city residents would support it.

"I don't see this going over well with the public," she said.

Any extension would be funded up to 98 percent by the FAA and the state, Lesniak said. He estimated it would take about five or six years to complete. No cost estimate for the extension was offered.

Other council members said they thought it was an exciting economic development opportunity.

"It's to our advantage to see if it's possible," Bill Dudley said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@ or (727) 893-8549. Follow @CharlieFrago.