Venice set to unveil new plan for airport; Residents prepare to weigh in on the issue of development at the site.

A 200-page consultants' report falls in line with what city leaders have said for months about Venice Municipal Airport: in order to grow and remain financially viable, it must attract a private development.

But skeptical residents, from golfers at the airport's public course to slow-growth advocates who scoff at the idea of building a resort on the property, remain unconvinced.

The critics will have their chance to voice their opinions at a public meeting tonight, when city leaders present the proposed "airport master plan" for the first time. The city is expected to adopt a new master plan, which will steer the future of the 60-year-old general aviation airport, later this year.

The proposed plan, which also calls for an air traffic control tower and 80 new hangar units, arrives during a time of percolating public resistance to plans to develop some of the airport's 451 undeveloped acres.

The report states that city plans to improve the airport with better runways, modern GPS technology and new security systems are "not considered attainable ... under current conditions."

But some Venice residents, such as Jim Marble, question whether all the improvements, and all the building, are necessary.

"What's the future here?" Marble said. "They really should be counting their operations and building an airport for reality."

The new airport master plan has been in the works for about a year and a half. The plan, which has been in effect since 1969, was last updated in 2003.

The plan does not include comments about the proposals to develop the airport property. Five developers have pitched resorts for the mostly vacant land, which overlooks Caspersen Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway. City officials have said the proposals, one of which would cost more than $250 million, are too dramatic for this city of 21,000.

But the new master plan does outline a host of airport improvements that, if completed by 2012, would cost more than $60 million. The improvements include:

* a new $3.75 million terminal building.

* a $4 million emergency access road.

* $2 million to rehabilitate taxi lanes near the hangars.

The plan states that leasing land to a private developer would "greatly improve the financial feasibility of" the proposed improvements.

Jeff Snyder, the city's finance director, said that mirrors his stance on the airport's finances. Snyder recently released projections of the airport's finances that show the facility's operating expenses growing at a faster rate than its revenues. The report shows the airport's operating income decreasing from $397,155 in 2001 to $215,659 in 2011.

"Putting somebody else's building on our land helps receive property taxes from that building. It relieves tax burden from residents. It provides jobs," Snyder said.

Residents questioned that logic at a May 8 public meeting in which the City Council promised to engage residents in the process of developing the airport. One resident said it appeared the city was trying to build "West Orlando."

Mayor Fred Hammett attributed those kinds of comments to "speculation, hearsay and extension of rumors."

Hammett and representatives from MEA Group Inc. of West Palm Beach, which crafted the proposed airport plan, are expected to speak tonight. City officials, including City Council and Airport Advisory Board members, will also speak.

Councilman John Simmonds said the city will need a "sales job" to attract the right kind of development to the airport. First, he will need to sell it to the city's residents.

"You do need to generate the money. It won't pay for itself and it's very marginal right now," he said.


What: Public meeting about the new airport master plan.

When: Today at 5 p.m.

Where: 326 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice.


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