Sarasota City Commission unanimously votes in support of latest plans for Sarasota Bradenton International Airport property

Second and final votes expected scheduled for Nov. 6 meeting

This graphic shows the blocks that are the focus of the Airport Authority applications. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

With the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) manager emphasizing the continuing growth of the facility, the Sarasota City Commission has given initial approval to changes that will permit new development on the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority’s property.

The second, and final, readings of the proposed ordinances is scheduled for the commissioners’ regular meeting on Nov. 6.

“We’re growing at a fantastic pace,” Frederick “Rick” Piccolo, SRQ’s manager, pointed out during the approximately 30-minute-long public hearing on Oct. 16. “We’ll break [a record with] 4.3 million passengers this year,” he continued. “Four years ago, we were at 1.3 million.”

Just in September, Piccolo added. The passenger count was 21% higher than it was in September 2022. (See the related article in this issue.) “We’ll continue to go up these next few months at double digits again,” Piccolo told the commissioners.

SRQ’s new terminal “should be open in December of ’24,” he continued. “Allegiant Airlines has already taken all five gates. You’ll see more exponential growth at the airport, which is more exponential growth and economic benefit for the community. We’re just trying to keep up with it.”
Piccolo also noted, “There are not too many pieces of dirt that are not under a shovel …”

As the city staff report in the Oct. 16 agenda materials explained, the airport encompasses about 100.4 acres, from north of University Parkway to south of Air Cargo Avenue to east of Airport Circle and west of the Seminole Gulf Railway. The parcels are zoned Governmental (G) and Intensive Commercial District, (ICD), the report added.

During the SRQ team’s presentation, attorney Dan Bailey of the Williams Parker law firm in Sarasota — who noted that he has been the primary attorney for the Airport Authority for about 38 years — used a graphic to explain the various facets of the requests before the commissioners that day. Of the 100.4 acres that the Airport Authority owns, he said, 96 are in the city of Sarasota. In fact, Bailey pointed out, the airport is divided among three jurisdictions; the other two are in Manatee County and unincorporated Sarasota County.

One goal of the actions that the Airport Authority was seeking that day, he continued, is the consolidation of all of the rental car facilities on a single site, which he referenced as Block 7 on a graphic. That, Bailey said, would “provide a great deal more efficiency where they can do maintenance and refueling and some storage of those vehicles.” However, he continued, “there will be no customers over there … The customers will still pick up and drop off the cars at the terminal area.”

This graphic also shows the blocks, overlaid on an aerial map of the airport. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Bailey noted that that portion of the plans does involve the airport’s new cell phone lot, for which building permits had been received.

Piccolo said that the new cell phone lot will be “very different from the temporary lot that we have north of there …” It has “restrooms, vending machines, lighting, security cameras and actual pavement [and] lots of shade … It’s much better for the customers.”

Further, it “will have display boards within the next two months,” he added, attributing the delay in their installation to “more supply chain issues than anything else.”

Since it opened about a month ago, Piccolo said, that facility has been “very well received.”

Another remote parking lot is expected to open within the next two weeks, Piccolo continued. Shuttle service will be provided to it, Bailey added.

Further, Bailey talked of a new 60-room, four-story hotel planned for one area of the SRQ property, which already has been approved.

“Everything south of Rental Car Road is part of the SRQ Gateway Center,” he noted. “What we’ve tried to do there,” he said, “is set the stage for these parcels to be leased out long-term to various commercial tenants. Unfortunately,” Bailey continued, “because we’ve had such a surge in air traffic since the pandemic lifted, we’ve had to hijack some of those spots and use them for parking [for airport uses]. Eventually, we hope to be able to reconvert them after we maybe build a parking garage …”

“We’re going through a master parking plan right now,” Piccolo pointed out. He expects to have that ready for Airport Authority review by the spring, he said, with an eye toward vertical construction taking place in front of the terminal.

That parking garage idea, he added, likely will cost “in the neighborhood of a hundred million dollars,” with the Airport Authority having to issue bonds to cover the expense.

“In the interim,” Piccolo continued, “We have to park cars in other areas, just about everywhere we can find an open piece of ground.”

Airport revenue a necessity

This section of a city document provides more details about the blocks. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Referencing Bailey’s earlier comment about commercial tenants, Piccolo explained, “We survive and make our money not on taxes but on revenues we get from our users, and what we would like to do there is develop more hotel/restaurant/office space,” which — he noted — the city commissioners expressed an interest in when he addressed them several years ago.

“Fees from restaurants and that type of thing goes into our coffers,” Piccolo said, which “gives us more financial security [and] addresses needs of the community.”

During a December 2020 presentation to members of the Sarasota County Tourist Advisory Council, Piccolo talked of the fact that the airport retired its debt in 2014 and then completed a four-year, $20-million renovation of the terminal in 2016 on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. He also noted at that time that the airport charged lower fees to the airlines than many of its competitors, which positioned it well for the future.

Approximately 18 months later — in June 2022 — he discussed with that county advisory board a variety of expansion projects that were being planned. Among them, he noted two new parking initiatives, as the airport had only 2,100 spaces at the time and the previous Thanksgiving, staff had had to fence off part of the ramp to park “a about 500 cars there” because of the number of holiday travelers.

Further details in the city staff report

The city staff report on the new proposals explained that one of the actions on the agenda that day called for amending an ordinance approved in 2019 that allowed for 300 hotel rooms, a 150-seat restaurant and up to 200,000 square feet of office space. “The Hampton Inn and Kompose hotels now exist on that property,” identified as Blocks 12 and 13, the report noted. “The restaurant is located within the Kompose hotel,” the report continued. “The applicant wishes to amend this ordinance to remove the stipulation that the restaurant and office uses on these parcels can only be accessory to a hotel use.”
That ordinance affects 88.85 acres, the report said.

As part of his remarks, attorney Bailey pointed out that the Sarasota Gateway Center would have uses such as a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through window, a “high turnover, sit-down restaurant, convenience store with gasoline and car wash, general retail, hotel, self-storage, mini-warehouse, general office [space] and [a] drive-in bank.”

He did emphasize, “These are not the only uses.”

Dan Bailey. Image courtesy Williams Parker

Whenever a tenant plans to lease part of that property, he added, the tenant will be responsible for coming to city staff to secure approval of its site plan.

Among the formal requests before the City Commission on Oct. 16 were the following:

  • The rescission of the original Development of Regional Impact designation applicable to all of the Airport Authority’s property, plus approval of a General Development Plan and an accompanying Development Agreement, which would be applicable to 96.54 of the Airport Authority’s acres.
  • Rezoning 88.85 acres from the Governmental zone to the Intensive Commercial District (ICD) zone.
  • Approval of a Major Conditional Use “to allow an aviation and surface passenger terminal use with customary accessory uses” within the proposed ICD zone district. The site plan “includes the rental car ‘quick turnaround facility’ proposed on Block 7, the overflow parking lots on Blocks 8 and 10, the cell phone lot on Blocks 5 and 6, and the remote parking lot on Blocks 1, 2, and 3,” the report said.

At City Attorney Robert Fournier’s recommendation, the City Commission did not vote on any of the proposed measures except the rezonings because copies of the General Development Plan and the Development Agreement were not included in the materials provided to the board members in the Oct. 16 meeting packet.

“I’ve got a little bit of concern,” Fournier said, “about moving to approve those when they are not there for anybody to see.” Fournier added that someone could complain that the commissioners voted on “something that really wasn’t in front of [them].”

Moreover, he continued, he did not believe the commissioners should rescind the Development of Regional Impact until they could approve the other two measures.

“In an effort not to hold up the entire process” that day, he said, he felt that action on the rezoning ordinances would be appropriate. Then, on second reading, the commissioners could address all of the ordinances, as everything could be included among the materials for that November meeting.

None of the board members asked questions of the airport project team.

Commissioner Erik Arroyo ended up making the motions for approval of the rezoning ordinances, on first reading.