St. Petersburg's next big civic argument - FOX 13 News

St. Petersburg's next big civic argument

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Work will begin soon on the mega-sized re-plumbing of St. Petersburg's wastewater treatment system. While the $30 million project is underway, streets will be torn up from downtown's Bayboro Harbor to the Pinellas Bayway.

When it is finished in about a year and half, the Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Plant will be closed, saving the city a couple of million dollars a year in operating costs.

The closure will also free up more than six acres of valuable downtown waterfront property. Maximizing that opportunity is now on the minds of city leaders.

"We're one of the only major cities that has an airport and a port right next to each other," Chamber of Commerce president Chris Steinocher pointed out. "How are they supposed to be sharing resources, what can they be doing differently, and freeing up some of that land for the private sector?"

The users of Albert Whitted Airport already have one answer: they want more aircraft hangars and tie downs.

"We've spent roughly $13 million since 2003," on airport improvements, said Jack Tunstill, of the airport advisory committee. He added that airport use continues to grow.

The pilots have an upper hand: The water department rents the land from the airport, and the dirt automatically reverts to airport use.

Mayor Bill Foster concedes that reality.

"It's airport property and the FAA is going to make sure that whatever we do with the land, it's either exclusive airport use or there's ample compensation to take care of that which is airport," Foster said.

The mayor's focus is on the latter.

"Yes, we are looking at a structured parking facility and some type of land swap that benefits Albert Whitted and benefits the port and all that potential development along the port," he said.

Asked directly about more hangars, Foster said "No, that's not in the cards."

"It's news to me that the mayor's saying there's no hangars going to be down there," Tunstill responded. "That's opposite of where I'm going to be."

Consider that the opening exchange in St. Petersburg's next Big Discussion.

"We've talked about the Pier, we've talked about (waterfront) stadiums in the past, but here you have a wastewater treatment facility on your waterfront and you're going to free up six to seven acres," Steinocher observed. "I think any community that has any waterfront left would say holy cow, here's an opportunity."

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