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Commissioners Approve $1.1M Reimbursement to SRQ for Observation Deck


BRADENTON—The Manatee County Government and SRQ Sarasota-Manatee Airport are partnering to construct a $2.2 million public observation area at the intersection of 15th Street East and Lindbergh Court in southern Manatee County. The county has agreed to support the project by providing SRQ with an economic development reimbursement equal to half the projected cost, $1.1 million.

The project’s development site is a fairly well-known location to area residents and visitors who enjoy parking on the unpaved easement along a chain link fence off 301 Boulevard East. SRQ President and CEO Rick Piccolo told TBT by phone that he has observed spectators of all ages enjoying the perfect vantage of take-offs and landings for years from his office window.

“I’ve been here almost 30 years,” Piccolo said, “and every day there are cars sitting on this gravel area watching the planes.”

Piccolo said the idea to enhance the spectators’ experience by improving the popular parking and watching site—a roughly 400-foot-long strip of land owned by the Manatee County Government—was first raised years ago. 

Satellite Capture from Google Maps
Satellite Capture from Google Maps

The idea found itself with legs under it in 2021, and by April 2022, the county entered into a reimbursement agreement with SRQ for funding the project. At the time of the first agreement’s approval, SRQ provided the county with conceptual renderings and the estimated costs for the project. The conceptual renderings prepared by Fawley Bryant Architecture, seen in this YouTube video, showed what an enhanced observation deck experience might look like.

In 2022, the project's estimated cost was $700,000, of which Manatee County agreed to reimburse half$350,000—to SRQ for its design and construction. But while speaking by phone, Piccolo explained that the renderings and estimates from 2022 were based only on a conceptual idea and not the actual project design.

“The final design includes the specifics that the initial concept did not,” Piccolo explained, “including important safety features.”

Sweet Sparkman Architecture & Interiors completed the project's final design in Sept. 2023 after the firm was selected through an open bidding process. The estimated cost for the project is now anticipated to be $2.2 million$1.5 million more than the ballpark estimates from 2022, bringing the county’s commitment of half the cost up by $750,000 to the current figure of $1.1 million. 

Given that the original reimbursement agreement between SRQ and the county didn’t include Sparkman’s final design and the increased cost estimates, the agreement had to be returned to Manatee Commissioners so the board could approve the county’s increased financial commitment to the project.

On Thursday, March 21, a BOCC land use meeting agenda carried the item on consent, where it was passed unanimously by commissioners. Unfortunately, because the item was passed on the consent agenda, there was no presentation or discussion prior to its approval, so the details were not shared publicly outside of the agenda’s item attachments.

For a brief moment earlier in the week, it looked as though the item would be moved to the regular agenda. However, after first being added to the agenda on consent and then moved to the regular, an agenda update on Wednesday moved the item back onto the consent agenda again.

Some of the project details not heard on Thursday before the BOCC include an 825-square-foot observation deck, an aluminum shade structure called “The Wing,” seating options for visitors, a playground with an airplane-shaped play structure, lighting and landscaping, and paved parking for 17 cars with some overflow shelled parking space.

Design rendering by Sweet Sparkman Architecture of a future observation deck at the Sarasota-Manatee Airport
Design rendering by Sweet Sparkman Architecture of a future observation deck at the Sarasota-Manatee Airport

Some of the important safety features referenced by Piccolo include added turn lanes for safely entering and exiting the observation area, guard rails, and anti-ram barriers, which will increase visitors' safety given the site’s location off of a curved section of 301 Boulevard East.

Additional design details include a border wall timeline of images featuring the airport's history. The observation deck will also include speakers where visitors can listen in real-time to air traffic communications while watching the planes land and depart. Designated signage representing the county and the airport will also be featured at the site. 

The funding for Manatee County’s portion of the project will be sourced from the county’s Southwest Improvement Trust Fund. Tax dollars deposited into the trust fund are intended to be used for improvements and redevelopment projects located within the county’s Southwest District, including the construction or reconstruction of streets, utilities installment or upgrades, parks, playgrounds, street lighting, sidewalks and other public improvements necessary for carrying out redevelopment within the district.

The SRQ Airport observation deck will be located in southern Manatee within the improvement district. The county has determined that the project will meet Goal 5 of the SWD Strategic Plan, which highlights the importance of “creating opportunities to establish a sense of place for corridors and neighborhoods in the Southwest District.” 

The agenda item’s cover memo included that, “The proposed observation deck area will create a visual and auditory experience in the Southwest District that can be capitalized upon as a vibrant destination for businesses, tourists, and residents, adding beauty, signage, socialization, and recreation for the community.”

SRQ’s invitation for contractors to bid on the project’s construction closed out earlier this year and Sarasota construction company Stellar Development Inc. came in with the best and lowest offer. The company has already submitted a building permit application to the county.

SRQ President/CEO Piccolo tells TBT that the airport and its board are excited to see the project start. He added that construction might begin next month and could be completed as soon as the end of the year.

The growing international airport is undergoing a terminal expansion as passenger counts continue to increase year after year. During the twelve months from February 2023-2024, passenger counts came in at over four million (4,377,319 passengers), a 10% increase compared to the 3,976,376 passengers seen the twelve months prior. Once completed, the expansion project may support as many as 7 million passengers passing through the Sarasota-Manatee Airport per year.


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  • Cat L

    This is a really cool thing, and Sweet Sparkman is an amazing firm with another great design, but it's really irritating that everything needs commissioners seem to do has to go in a shady way. Why the consent agenda?

    Sunday, March 24 Report this

  • N

    No bathrooms or portapotties ? I'd rather observe the old way, park on the dirt gravel and stand by the car. Who's going to keep the place clean?

    Sunday, March 24 Report this

  • WTF

    This is dual roll the BOCC solution to Homeless Veterans, they can sleep under the bleachers...

    Sunday, March 24 Report this