Budget conference: SRQ Airport lands $21.5 million in state funding in latest offers

SRQ airport planes
That's more than three times what airport officials requested.

It looks like Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) just brought $21.5 million in for a landing.

The latest budget offers from the House and Senate set aside that appropriation for a terminal expansion. That’s a number greater than three times what the airport even asked for ahead of Session.

“We are extremely grateful to the Florida Legislature,” said SRQ Airport CEO Fred Piccolo, “especially Representative (James) Buchanan who sponsored the initial request, our entire delegation, and a special thanks to Speaker (Chris) Sprowls and President (Wilton) Simpson for their support as they recognized the need and the tremendous economic benefit to the community and the state. There were many other legislators who heard our situation and understood the need and are too numerous to mention.”

An expansion is planned to help the suburban airport expand and better handle growth in passenger flights.

“The two projects are about $120 million to complete,” Piccolo said.

“The baggage project is about $50 million and provides for a new in-line baggage system that screens all the luggage and places all the screening machinery in a joint system so if one machine has a problem the bags simply get diverted automatically to a different machine. Presently SRQ has three separate baggage screening areas so if a machine or belt breaks down we must physically move the bags by hand to another machine. This is very inefficient and labor intensive and also results in bags sometimes missing the flight and must be sent later on another flight which inconveniences the passenger. Additionally, SRQ has the oldest screening machines in the state. While the machines have had updates and parts changeouts, they are still the oldest and the breakdowns are more frequent. This will increase reliability, security and efficiency.”

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, and Rep. James Buchanan, a Venice Republican, championed the spending in the Senate and House respectively.

The money will go in part toward $6 million worth of engineering and design consulting.

The planned terminal expansion was already approved in a Development of Regional Impact plan in the late 1990s.

“The terminal project will be a new five gate ground based terminal at the East end of the ticket wing estimated at around $70,000,000. This will have its own security checkpoint, and concessions. It also involves an upgrade of our central energy plant increasing energy efficiency and added air cleaning equipment to improve health safety. As you know, SRQ grew by 155% last year, with nearly 3,200,000 passengers utilizing the airport,” Piccolo said.

“SRQ is the fastest growing airport in the country and the first month of 2022 we grew 139% over that record 2021. The terminal is desperately needed to handle the increased passenger loads and the continued growth. The airport growth has hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact and tremendous job creation for the community. The existing Terminal is beyond its capacity to service the passenger loads efficiently and comfortably. The Airport Authority already has design underway and a construction firm chosen and working with the design firm. We hope to break ground late summer and complete this much needed expansion in about 18 months.”

Nearly 3.2 million passengers traveled through the airport in the 2021 calendar year. That’s greater than a 155% increase in traffic over 2020, which was impacted by COVID-19. But it’s also a massive spike from 2019 traffic when the airport saw roughly 2 million passengers come through.

“The growth at SRQ has been phenomenal,” Piccolo recently told SRQ Magazine. “We’re the fastest growing airport in the United States, if not in the world.”

Simply funding an expansion of passenger and baggage processing will deliver a $1.5-billion economic benefit to the greater Sarasota community and creating more than 12,000 jobs.

After seeing nearly 2 million passengers in seats just in the last year, an expansion needs to happen as soon as possible, Piccolo said. Since 2018, the airport has added five airlines to its roster and 40 new nonstop destinations for flights to and from Sarasota.

The airport, while a quasi-governmental operation, charges no property tax on local residents.

Beyond the state contribution, airport officials also expect $20 million in federal funding and $10 million in local funding from the airport’s revenues.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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