FAA Funds $4 Million For New Air Traffic Control Tower For Sarasota-Bradenton Airport

Aug. 22--MANATEE -- A long-awaited project for a new air traffic control tower at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport could begin next year, as the Federal Aviation Administration plans to give the airport more than $9 million.

The FAA awarded $9.1 million in grants to the airport, which includes a $4 million discretionary grant that will be used to pay for the new tower.

"We are real pleased," said Fredrick "Rick" Piccolo, airport CEO and president of the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority. "This is a project we've been working

on for five years."

Under the airport's plan, the tower will be relocated to the southwest part of the property to allow development of about 40 acres for hangars and other commercial buildings. Without relocating the tower, the property couldn't be developed because the new buildings would block air traffic controllers' views. Once the bidding timeline gets settled, airport staff can start talking with potential companies who want to build in the infield.

"It's a rare piece of property in that it's aviation adjacent," Piccolo said. "It could give very easy access to the airfield."

Potential uses could be manufacturing facilities or assembly plants that need "just-in-time" delivery, Piccolo said, so manufactures could put products directly on a plane to fly out.

Airport authority Chairman Jack Rynerson welcomed news of the grant award, and estimated several dozen hangars could be built on the property.

"It is terrific," Rynerson said. "It's what we expected and it's nice to have it happen."

Construction will cost $10.2 million for the tower itself, according to budget documents, but the overall project that includes a base building, infrastructure, design and environmental studies total $18 million to $20 million. Each agency -- the airport, FAA and Florida Department of Transportation -- will contribute about one-third of the cost of the project. That will come to about $6 million each, Piccolo said, as $1.5 million has already been spent.

Construction bids could be solicited in the spring of 2015 and construction would take two to three years to complete, Piccolo said.

One reason the FAA wants to move the tower is to provide a larger base building in the tower that could serve as a training facility, Rynerson said.

The remaining grant money will be used to fund continuing terminal renovations, expansion of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection Federal Inspection Services area and airfield taxi lanes.

The FAA grant is part of the Airport Improvement Program, funded by user fees on airline tickets, and used to make capital improvements at airports.

The FAA previously issued another grant to pay for the tower's design.

Piccolo and Rynerson acknowledged the airport has had good fortune of late with awards, more passengers coming through, having its terminal upgraded and now the authority is free of long-term debt.

"We've had a good run this past month, and I think there's no reason why we won't find more good things happen, service wise," Rynerson said. "It empowers the airport to keep on keeping on."

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

Copyright 2014 - The Bradenton Herald