Tampa's airport authority and Leading Edge Aviation turn a private strip into a first-class GA airport
BY John F. Infanger, editorial director
November / December 1999
TAMPA — It's been a number of years in the making, but Tampa's new primary reliever, Vandenberg Airport, is now poised to burst onto the corporate and general aviation scene. The crowning achievement in this 18-year effort was the completion in October of the $4.8 million terminal building, which has as its primary tenant Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc.
"Our research says we're sitting on top of a gold mine here," says Mark Moberg, president of Leading Edge, the company charged with helping what is essentially a new airport reach its potential. And everyone involved with the project agrees that the potential is tremendous.
Adds Ed Cooley, director of general aviation for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA), "If you looked at a map and wanted to put a dart in the center, you'd probably hit Vandenberg. It's right in the growth area of the county where we expect office, warehousing, and distribution development. So, we see Vandenberg becoming even more important."
Vandenberg is located in the center of the Interstate 4/75 corridor east of downtown Tampa, an area that is currently undergoing significant business growth.
Explains Moberg, "We see a huge influx of small to medium sized corporations moving into the area. We've been very involved with the Tampa development councils and with the Chambers of Commerce to find out who's looking at Tampa. We've followed through on that to find out of those companies, how many of them operate corporate aircraft, what size, what type. And, almost all of them have either King Air-type or Citation-type aircraft.
"In addition to that, we have all the growth at Tampa International, where Raytheon has a waiting list for the type of aircraft we need to store here. Those people are in the process of being contacted."
Vandenberg is also seen as a complement to the other Tampa GA facilities, Peter O. Knight and Plant City Airports, also operated by HCAA, according to Cooley.
Rebuilding a Private Airport
The new airport is actually a total refurbishment of a private facility formerly owned by George Vandenberg. As part of the sale, the authority agreed to keep the Vandenberg name for at least 20 years.
"What we did was bought an existing airport and built a new airport adjacent to it," says Cooley. "It is now capable of handling corporate jets." A new 5,000x100-ft. runway was constructed and the existing 3,200-ft. (now 3,260-ft.) runway was rehabilitated.
The process for acquiring Vandenberg began in 1981, explains Cooley, when HCAA performed a site selection study to determine where a fourth public airport should be located.
"We looked at various airports," recalls Cooley, who has been with the project since the beginning. "It was recommended that we buy and convert Vandenberg. It was already busy, had air space established, and was well placed in terms of the future growth area of the county.
Vandenberg, encompassing 105 acres, was acquired in 1985 for $4.8 million. Since that time, the authority has acquired an additional 300 acres, purchasing 67 parcels of land and relocating 50 families.
Explains Cooley, "We did a short-range and a long-range master plan. The airport, overall, when it was acquired was not up to public standards. The runway wasn't in real good condition; hangars were in poor condition. So at first there was a five-year transition plan.
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