Sarasota-Manatee Airport CEO Moving Into Community

After 10 years of service, the airport's top executive is moving to Sarasota, accepting the incentive of free use of a home as part of his compensation package.

Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority members gave Fred Piccolo near-perfect scores on his annual performance appraisal Wednesday, expressing delight that he has chosen to finally move to the market he serves as president and chief executive of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

The move could give him more visibility and credibility in the community, some authority members said Wednesday at an Airport Authority meeting.

Piccolo's approval rating, close to 97 percent, co-incides with a multi-million dollar expansion under way at the airport and double digit passenger increases.

Passenger traffic increased almost 13 percent in April, following a 20 percent increase in the first quarter of 2005, boosted by the arrival of low-cost carrier AirTran Airways.

Sarasota-Bradenton Airport's growth is part of a nationwide upswing in air passenger traffic following 9/11.

Piccolo said he expects the purchase to close in June on a home in the Bent Tree area of Sarasota, east of the Interstate near Bee Ridge Road.

Under terms of his extended employment contract, effective June 30, Piccolo will have free use of a home to be bought and owned by the airport, worth up to $500,000, if he moves to the area from St. Petersburg.

An earlier contract allowed Piccolo the option to buy a house purchased by the airport, but he rejected the offer in October.

Piccolo's new residence status will allow him a larger role in the community, said Bob Waechter, Authority chairman.

"The director should reside in the community," Waechter said. "We had to provide enough incentive for him to come here."

Offering the use of a home as an incentive is not uncommon in the industry for an executive of Piccolo's caliber, Waechter said.

Piccolo was rated on a scale of one to five in 10 categories, including business development, relationship with the board, financial management, public image, staff development, community relations, strategic planning and goals, leadership, job and industry knowledge and regulatory compliance.

Out of a maximum 300 points, Piccolo received 290.

Waechter gave Piccolo the lowest score out of six board members, with 45 points out of 50.

"You are an icon to the community, particularly now that you're going to live down here," said board member John Redgrave. In the comments section of Piccolo's appraisal, Redgrave wrote: "Now that you live in Sarasota, you need to be seen and heard in both counties and local government."

Piccolo, who has been the airport's chief since 1995, earns $156,612. That's lower than the $170,000 average salary at small hub airports, according to a survey by the American Association of Airport Executives, as reported by The Herald in an earlier report.

His new contract allows for 6 percent salary increases, a $25,000 home furnishings allowance and free air travel for his wife to accompany him on business trips.

The authority will also pay property taxes, home insurance and maintenance costs on his home.