Sarasota Airport Aims for More Open Land

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport officials hope to develop new revenue sources by relocating an existing structure and maximizing the potential for leasing vacant land at the airport.

Forty acres of land could open for development if the airport gets approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to relocate a radio beacon now sitting almost bull's-eye at the airport's center.

A separate quadrant of land on the east side of the airport, once considered low-rent, is poised to generate at least $500,000 in annual lease revenue.

The space will become home to a fixed base for Rectrix Aerodrome, a hangar for Coastal Atlantic, and a structure for Gyrocam Systems.

The airport already has funding to relocate its Vortac system, a multidirectional radio beacon that drives traffic to the airport, said Fred Piccolo, SRQ president and chief executive.

Getting permission to move it will allow the airport to develop 40 acres of land northwest of the structure.

Moving the beacon from its current location to the airport's extreme northwest corner will require FAA approval.

"Within two years, what you see now will change drastically and revenue stream will change drastically," Piccolo said as he accompanied Airport Authority members Wednesday on a tour of airport property.

Piccolo envisions an in-field industrial park in the space freed up by the relocation of Vortac.

But along with the new development will come needed infrastructure support, $10 million to $20 million worth.

More revenue could allow the airport to lower landing fees.

"The more economic development we can create around the airport, the more attractive we can be to airlines," said Bob Waechter, chairman of the Airport Authority.

Timing on the Vortac move will be up to the FAA.

"Since it affects the airways and the whole Southeast, it's not a small thing," said Raymond White, the airport's director of engineering.

Four taxi-way projects account for $7.5 million in construction work under way at the airport.

A new, 7,000-square-foot security checkpoint project will be completed in September at a cost of $2.3 million.

Designed to alleviate congestion, the new project will have six lanes instead of four and two additional screening machines.

The new project is just east of the existing security lanes.

Vacated space will give passengers more room.

Up to 95 percent of the expansion was paid for with airport improvement funds from the FAA.

"We're going to have far less passenger delays during peak periods," said Raymond White, the airport's director of engineering.

Airport Authority members learned last month that the northeast part of the airport falls within a groundwater contamination plume extending from a plant once used to make beryllium parts in the Tallevast neighborhood.

The airport is moving forward with plans to identify some environmental counsel, just in case airport property value is negatively impacted.

"We're not in the same situation with residents in the area who have health issues," said Dan Bailey, attorney for the Airport Authority. "But we do have some issues."