Airport officials are eyeing a small, private airport north of Port Manatee for possible purchase.
Located 10 miles north of Palmetto on U.S. 41, Airport Manatee is one of the largest privately owned public-use airports in Florida.
The 345-acre Airport Manatee has a 3,600-foot runway and serves about 100 private aircraft based there.
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport officials said Monday they were unsure whether the airport was for sale, and are certain it isn't conducive to landing large aircraft.
But as more and more small strips close, "where do these planes go?" said Fred Piccolo, CEO and executive director of Sarasota-Bradenton International. "It's a capacity issue. As more small airports close, you compress more and more aircraft into fewer landing strips. You only have a finite number of airports. Where will our capacity be 20 years from now?"
With 1,000 feet of frontage on Highway 41, airport officials worry that Airport Manatee would be an attractive buy for housing developers.
"We could operate that facility in the future for the good of aviation," Piccolo said. "We're taking a look at it to see if it can be saved for aviation."
J.T. Reeder, one of the airport's owners, neither confirmed nor denied that the airport was for sale.
"I guess everything's for sale everywhere at some price," Reeder said. "We're not advertising it."
The airport is in good condition, and it has some metal hangars, according to airport authority commissioner Jack Rynerson. "We don't want something like that to get away if there's a way to save it."
It isn't unusual for airport authorities to own several small airports.
In addition to Tampa International Airport, the Hillsborough County Airport Authority owns Vandenberg and Peter O. Night airports and an airport in Plant City.
"If an authority serves the public, they would be interested in keeping an airport an airport," Reeder said. "I doubt there'll be many more."
Reeder co-owns the airport with a group of others. He said they built it about 30 years ago.
"You don't make any money out of an airport," Reeder said. "With us, it's a fun thing. We built it and we're enjoying it, and people who have planes here and who fly in and out enjoy it too."
Airport Authority member Kathy Baylis said in the present environment, a parcel with that much frontage on Highway 41 warrants further investigation.
Buying 300-plus acres of property anywhere in Manatee County would be a sizable expense, said Piccolo, who plans to look into possible funding sources.
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