SARASOTA — On Monday, the New College Board of Trustees will vote on "Approval of Initial Terms for Sarasota Bradenton International Airport Agreement," hoping to move forward with plans to acquire airport property for future use by the school. SRQ's former properties director has been attempting to alert the public as to the possible folly of the proposal, which calls for the sale of 30.94 acres for $11.5 million.
New College leases its east campus from the Sarasota International Airport, which includes dormitories and a conference center. That lease runs out in 33 years, and the airport has long warned the school that it would not renew the lease if it looked as though it would require the land for future growth.
Given SRQ's record-breaking growth in the past three years, John Schussler, former Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority properties director, cannot see the benefit of trading a public resource from where it seems will be much needed to expand the footprint of a school that was never intended for such growth and is neighbored by another, larger state university.
"The airport is a 1,100-acre local public transportation facility serving four million local, national, and international passengers annually and employing thousands of local people. New College has about 750 students, few of them local, and little economic impact compared to the airport. On how many other issues in these negotiations has New College prevailed? Is this a political favor to New College and the State of Florida?"
Shussler is even more perplexed by which land is being sold, namely a parcel at the north end nearest the airport’s passenger terminal.
"That is the land the airport will first need for future airport development," said Shussler. "New College is not buying their only street access, General Spaatz Blvd. They may or may not be buying their main parking lots."
Shussler added that the Federal Aviation Administration has some ability to enforce federal government interests on airports, as airports receive federal grants. He says the FAA tends to be concerned when airports want to sell airport land, especially near their terminal buildings, and the FAA must approve the release of this land from federal grant assurances before it can be sold to New College.
"The Airport Authority has also been putting off dealing with the FAA’s concerns about the proposed land sale while fully cooperating with New College and the state to complete the negotiations and get their board approvals," said Shussler. "Why don’t they get the FAA approval first?"
In the end, Shussler does not believe any part of the deal will benefit the community or region.
"The airport should not be selling any of this land because it will be needed someday for passenger terminal-related facilities," said Shussler.
The December 11 Board of Trustees meeting, scheduled to be held at 4 p.m. is a public virtual meeting that can be watched here.
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