Punta Gorda eyes airport takeover

By Daniel Sutphin, Charlotte Sun Staff Writer, Dec 7, 2020 

PUNTA GORDA — Despite being shot down by a Charlotte County Airport Authority majority vote in November, the idea of privatizing Punta Gorda Airport doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.

Punta Gorda officials have asked state legislators to consider actions that could dissolve the Airport Authority and, in turn, potentially transfer airport operations to the city.

Had it moved forward, the privatization proposal could have brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the airport − some upfront and some throughout a 40-year lease − but it would have meant handing over airport operations to private interests.

“There is some potential to keep that proposal alive to bring some of that money in,” said City Manager Greg Murray at last week’s City Council meeting. “Looking at it from a city perspective, as opposed to an airport perspective, it might be a whole different discussion.” 

The public/private partnership would allow the principal owner of the airport to invest airport profits into community projects. Federal aviation regulations bar spending profits outside of the airport.

At last week’s meeting, the City Council supported the idea and asked Murray to move forward with seeking the Charlotte County Legislative Delegation’s assistance on the matter. The delegation meets Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association at 2001 Shreve St. in Punta Gorda.

State Rep. Michael Grant, who serves as delegation chair, said the city’s request is unusual.

“This is my ninth delegation meeting and I have not seen a request like this before,” Grant said. “It (would probably) take an action of the Legislature to dissolve the Airport Authority and have the airport operated by another entity − the city or other.

“From my perspective,” Grant continued, “you would want to have a feasibility study or some kind of review (before pursuing something like this). I don’t know the capabilities of the city vis-à-vis the Airport Authority, who would be a better operator at this point.”

Airport Authority Commissioner Rob Hancik said there was no reason to change ownership of the airport.

“We are financially strong. We have major projects underway to take care of existing needs and anticipated growth,” said Hancik, who voted against moving forward with the initial privatization proposal.

“We are in a lot better shape than many airports our size,” Hancik continued. “If the airport changes ownership, the new owner can then take the airport and put it into the privatization program and get hundreds of millions of dollars for projects other than those at the airport.”

Airport Authority Commissioner Vanessa Oliver, who supported moving forward with the privatization proposal, does not back the idea of handing authority over to the city.

“I do not support dissolution of the Airport Authority,” Oliver told The Daily Sun in an email. “I believe the Airport Authority had and continues to have a duty to review and fully evaluate offers relating to the public/private program so that (we) can make a determination as to whether entering into the program is in the best interest of Charlotte County residents.”

Charlotte County Communications Manager Brian Gleason said county commissioners are aware of the city’s request to the delegation and they will be discussing it at today’s County Commission meeting.