Recently the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority approved an agreement with the New College Board of Trustees to sell land to New College, The land involved in the sale is property the Airport Authority leases to New College. 

Recently there have been accusations of impropriety in this transaction. The accusations come from individuals and groups that object to the transformation that Governor DeSantis has instigated at New College. These groups and individuals have inferred that the agreement between the Airport Authority and New College is part of a right-wing plot. Our local on-line Democrat newspaper has given a megaphone to these conspiracy theories.

Let us examine the history of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority. The land that New College leases from the Airport Authority was deeded to the Airport after World War II under the War Surplus Act. In 1957, the Airport entered into a lease with a third party for “New College” land  which was thereafter subleased to New College. The lease was amended in 1966 to include more land that the Airport Authority did not need for airport operations. The lease runs through 2056. New College has expanded on this land over the last 50 years. 

Since this lease was commenced in 1957, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has enacted rules and regulations concerning land owned by Airport Authorities. The FAA has power to enact such rules and regulations because they make grants to the Airport Authority for various airport related projects. Leases are required to be made at Fair Market Value and any land sales must follow the  same regulations. 

The lease entered into in 1957 and 1966 is extremely undervalued in today’s market. Obviously, our area has had enormous population growth in the past half century. The Airport Authority receives only $108,000 annually for the lease of 35 acres to New College. Today’s market would require a lease of $1,300,000 annually. The lease expires in 33 years. 

Rick Piccolo, the President, CEO of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority has been discussing the expiring lease with the leadership of New College for the past decade. Until recently, the leadership of New College has not been interested in solving the issue of the expiring lease. This could have been because the college had a declining enrollment and the State of Florida would need to provide the financial resources to finance a purchase of the land from the Airport Authority.

Recently, the New College administration has expressed an interest in purchasing the land they are leasing from the Airport Authority. 

The Airport Authority has several responsibilities in this present situation. First, the Airport Authority must protect its ability to grow to meet future demands. The agreement entered into between the Authority and New College returns to the Airport 4 acres of land that the Airport experts identified, in an FAA approved Master Plan, as needed for future growth. The Airport Authority is confident that the FAA will confirm that the excess land being sold will not be needed for future growth.

The Airport Authority must also protect the taxpayers by obtaining good value for the land they are selling to New College. Remember, the present lease has a future life of 33 years. The Airport Authority could not sell the land to anyone else for 33 years without the buyer having to honor the lease that is currently in place. The sales price of $11,500,000 takes into account the lease that runs with the land for the next 33 years. Again, the FAA has reviewed the terms of the sale and will confirm that the sales price is a fair market value. 

Finally, the Airport Authority has always wanted to be a good neighbor and allow New College to continue to serve our community and state. Failing to reach an agreement with New College could lead to a situation in 33 years where a private developer could outbid the college in a sale of the land. The potential buyer could then terminate the lease at the end of the 33 year term and New College would have to move to another location or pay an exorbitant amount of rent. This agreement returns to the Airport Authority the 4 acres that are needed for future growth. It turns over to New College the remaining 31 acres and gives the Airport Authority funds to invest in needed growth at our Airport. 

Many of the parties opposed to this agreement come from a long line of conspiracy propagators. “The election was stolen.”” “Russia elected Trump.” “Clinton was a member of a child-abuse cult.” Etc, etc,etc.

I serve on the Sarasota Manatee  Airport Authority. We have strived to be good stewards of our resources and provide a world-class airport for our community. The agreement with New College is a win-win for our community.

Bob Spencer
Manatee Herald

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