College Eyes Sarasota-Bradenton Int'l Airport Land

New College of Florida wants to buy 3.5 acres of land that the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport owns. The airport wants to sell, but negotiations have stalled over price.

Both parties had the property appraised earlier this year, resulting in two different appraisals, estimated to be about $1 million apart. Since then, property values have gone up.

"It's not an issue of whether we can sell it," said Dan Bailey, legal counsel for the airport. "We have to establish fair market value on land we got from the federal government."

The airport is subject to federal rules governing diversion of revenue. Funds generated by the airport have to be used for the benefit of the airport. Failure to do so could jeopardize grant funds, Bailey said.

This applies to selling airport-owned land to New College at the northeast corner of University Parkway and U.S. 41.

The Sarasota Classic Car Museum currently has a lease on the property through 2012. Built in 1953 at 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, the museum has become a fixture in the area.

"It came as a big surprise to us that the airport would sell," said Martin Godbey, a board member who runs the nonprofit car museum. "They told us it couldn't be sold."

New College wants to build a 200-room dormitory on the property, according to Godbey and the airport.

Although it is a government institution like the airport, the college would still have to pay fair market value for any land it acquires from the airport, said Fred Piccolo, airport president and CEO.

Any lease or sale by the airport has to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to determine whether it complies with airport revenue diversion rules. "You can't divert revenue to another entity," Piccolo said. "It has to have an airport purpose. You can't give it away."

The airport's appraisal came in at between $4 million and $5 million, Piccolo said.

"We surmise that we were about $1 million apart," said Martin Lange, vice president and CFO of the airport.

Both parties are waiting for the appraisals to be updated, Piccolo said. There is no contract on the property.

"We're all in agreement that we will sell to them, whatever the appraisals say," Piccolo said.

The 60,000-square-foot car museum houses about 100 classic cars, and is fairly well thought-of throughout the classical car world, Godbey said.

"We would prefer to stay but if they want to get us out before 2012, we need a place to relocate," he said.

In other airport business, the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport reported a 3.7 percent increase in passenger traffic in October after posting double-digit increases each month since AirTran inaugurated flights last December.

Piccolo blamed hurricanes for disrupting flight activity and canceling flights. The absence of ATA, which filed for bankruptcy in April, also contributed.

AirTrain Airways started daily nonstop service between Indianapolis and the local airport this month, restoring a route that was lost when ATA Airlines left.

Sarasota-Bradenton wasn't alone in seeing smaller-than-usual increases in passenger traffic. Tampa International Airport saw a 2.14 percent increase in October after enjoying much higher gains all year, said Brenda Geoghagen, spokesperson for the Tampa airport.

Passenger traffic is up 16.2 percent at Sarasota-Bradenton for the 12 months ending in October.

"I think you'll see some real good rises for November and December," Piccolo said.

Bradenton Herald

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