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County seeks public-private partnership for regional airport project

It’s been almost a year since the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners voted to open up the idea of a Gulf County Regional Airport to potential public-private partnerships.

Now, following a vote from the board at their Feb. 28 meeting, the county is moving forward with negotiations for the project after receiving a proposal from the St. Joe Company.

“In your advertisement (for the project), it authorizes if there was only one (proposal) received to authorize the administrator to move forward in good faith and to begin the process of negotiating a preliminary agreement to outline the structure of what that would be, a public private partnership,” County Attorney Jeremy Novak told the commissioners at that meeting.

In keeping with state statute, the county has established a deadline of April 24 to accept any other proposals for the project. If received, these proposals will be evaluated along with the one from the St. Joe Company by a “selection committee” to be appointed by Hammond.

While any formal design and planning processes for the potential airport have yet to take place, the county outlined several details for the project with which proposed private partners had to agree.

In the initial advertisement for proposals, the county states that they “(are) seeking acreage approximately 10,000 feet long by 2,000 feet wide equating to approximately 459 acres within 10 miles of Port St. Joe and within five miles of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad for the roosed future construction and operation of the Gulf County Regional Airport.”

In the February meeting, Novak stated that the county aimed to secure a property of this size along the Intercoastal Waterway.

The advertisement also specifies that ownership of the facility will belong solely to Gulf County and that the private partner will lease the property from the county on a long-term, exclusive basis. The partner must also commit to creating an unspecified number of jobs within Gulf County and “work to maximize public use of the airport.”

If constructed, the county hopes the airport will attract private and air cargo traffic, but officials specified that the planned facility would not support commercial airlines or large-scale tourism traffic.

“Gulf County is one of the only counties in Florida that does not have a paved runway,” said Hammond. “It is an economic development engine.”

“This is not going to be a Panama City Beaches Northwest Florida International Airport… Right now this is not going to accommodate Delta and Southwest. Now 20, 30 years from now it might grow into something bigger.”

Novak stated that the county’s goal was to have a comprehensive agreement worked up with a private partner for the project by the end of this summer. 

A second hearing for the county’s acceptance of the St. Joe Company’s proposal, as well as a reading of any other received proposals, will be held during the county’s next regular session meeting on April 25 at 9 a.m. EDT. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the Robert R. Moore Administration BUilding, located behind the county courthouse.