Venice Airport on Florida’s Gulf Coast stands out among the 40 or so fields that received FAA Airport Improvement Program grants totaling more than $260 million in August. It’s not because Venice is a bastion of business aviation activity–the field is lucky to see six bizjet movements per day–nor did it receive the largest ($32.9 million) or smallest ($791,000) grant.
Instead, the $7.1 million grant to rehabilitate Runway 4/22 is noteworthy because just two years ago the FAA was seriously considering taking back airport funding because of grant-assurance violations. By accepting a $3.6 million AIP grant in 2007 to repave Runway 13/31, Venice Airport was obligated to adhere to the grant’s assurances.
But in early 2010 the local government of the sleepy Florida retirement community was pushing an airport master plan that sought to downgrade the airport to class B from class C in an effort to squeeze out jet activity, a plan that put the field in violation of its obligation to the FAA. It was embroiled in a nasty legal battle with the agency to do so, using more than $150,000 of airport revenues to file a lawsuit and fight the FAA in court. The town also filed a lawsuit–using more airport revenues–against the airport’s FBO, then known as the Venice Jet Center (now Suncoast Air Center), to prevent it from building more hangars that the FAA had approved.
But, as the saying goes, “All politics are local,” and this couldn’t be truer than in Venice. The airport support group, the Venice Airport Society (VASI), mobilized and found airport-friendly citizens who were willing to run for the open town council seats and for mayor. Through vigorous endorsements, VASI was able to help get the full slate of airport-friendly candidates elected.
Around the same time, Chris Rozansky, 34, was hired as the new airport administrator. Rozansky was previously the operations manager at Collin County Regional Airport in McKinney, Texas, and he told AIN that, because of the former council’s animosity toward the airport, he was reluctant to take the job. But, seeking a challenge, he did.
With more airport-friendly elected officials at his side, Rozansky was able to get a new airport master plan approved in July last year, one that preserved Venice Airport’s class C status. Since then he has been busy paring down a list of long-neglected upkeep items at the airport, but one project has loomed large in the background: repairing potholed Runway 4/22. Thanks mostly to the FAA grant, Rozansky will be able to scratch this off his list come January, when the project is expected to be completed.
The 5,000-foot runway, which dates back to 1942 as part of the original construction of Venice Army Air Field, is currently restricted to aircraft weighing less than 24,000 pounds and underused because of its poor condition. According to Rozansky, jet aircraft currently avoid 4/22, but multiple jet operators have advised the city that they would use it more frequently if it were restored.
Use of this runway, to be redesignated 5/23 to accommodate magnetic declination, will also mitigate noise because the southwest end abuts the Gulf and commercial buildings are on the northeast end. Residential neighborhoods are less than half a mile away from each end of Runway 13/31.
The total project cost is approximately $8.4 million, including $7.1 million from the FAA, $400,000 from the Florida Department of Transportation and $900,000 from the city of Venice.
Key elements of the project include reconstructing the runway with asphalt so it can support aircraft weighing up to 80,000 pounds; partially rebuilding parallel Taxiway E; relocating the adjacent golf course driving range (currently less than 500 feet from the end of Runway 22 and within the runway safety area); installing new LED runway and taxiway lights; installing new wildlife fencing; moving the displaced threshold on Runway 5 from 294 feet to 463 feet to account for a nearby bridge; and installing non-precision runway markings in preparation for future GPS approaches.
“I’d like to thank mayor John Holic and the Venice city council for their tireless effort and supportover the past two years to help secure this grant. City leaders have built a renewed spirit of cooperation with the FAA that will enable the airport to serve the community better,” Rozansky told AIN. “I’d also like to thank the FAA and FDOT for their partnership and commitment to the airport.”