Lakeland Linder International Airport has switched its expansion focus to cargo now that a multi-year effort to attract a passenger airline has drawn little interest, Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz says.

“I think the likelihood of passenger service for us at the airport is if someone wants to come as a spot, probably between Tampa and Orlando, as a younger airline,” Mutz said following Monday’s City Commission meeting. “And so that's the near-term likelihood and on a longer-term basis, we're not setting aside any funds for securing a guarantee for a larger airline to come at the present time because we really think the cargo growth is much more logical for us than to seek commercial airline growth and it’s more profitable for the airport, frankly, with less infrastructure requirements for the public. So all those things kind of work together to make us think about ‘How do we utilize our airspace the best use between two wonderful airports within an hour on either side?’ So that's the basis on which we're approaching the fact that commercial airlines are less likely.”

His comment came after a lengthy discussion last Friday and again Monday morning about Amazon’s expansion at the airport.  The commission voted 5-0 to approve an amendment to Amazon’s airport lease that allows for a new taxiway and two additional 767s flying in and out. Commissioners Mike Musick and Bill Read were absent from Monday’s meeting.

Currently Amazon, the largest retailer in the world, has up to 24 flights daily in and out of Lakeland.  The expansion will add eight flights in and out.

Amazon currently operates an air cargo facility on more than 47 acres of airport property it leases from the city. The mammoth company was seeking to lease an additional 10.6 acres to construct improvements adjacent to its existing facilities, including an expanded aircraft parking apron to accommodate the two Boeing 767s, as well as an expanded truck court. In addition, Amazon plans to construct an extension to Taxiway A that will connect to their expanded aircraft parking apron, allowing for safer and more efficient aircraft movements. It also has another option to expand on the contract that lasts for 15 years.

Amazon expansion plans include space for two more Boeing 767s and more truck parking. | City of Lakeland

Ed Centrangolo was the only resident to speak on the matter, saying city officials held “clandestine” meetings to help bring Amazon to Lakeland. He added that in 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration found that, based on the city’s representation of one landing and departure per day, there would be no significant environmental impact to the surrounding area by creating a maintenance and repair facility. That facility turned into the Amazon facility.

“In 2017, I bought my home in the Grasslands for the serenity, peace and quiet to relax playing golf every day,” Centrangolo said. The HOA imposes fines and restrictions for excessive noise. It does not allow for contractors to enter our community before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m., yet Amazon shakes our community with noise so loud it’s like we're getting bombarded from the sky anytime, night or day, with radically low-turning flights just a mere 1000 feet directly above our community. It's consistently disturbing and unsettling.”

He said the city has promised to fix the noise issue by changing flight paths to travel above the Polk Parkway.

“By approving the second amendment to this ground lease, the city will only create more aircraft noise. Why not try to fix the problems affecting the citizens of Lakeland before creating more noise problems?” Centrangolo asked. We’re demanding … that the departing flight corridors be redirected to much higher altitudes and begin turning south miles away from the Grasslands and the city of Lakeland, thus helping to abate the constant environmental bombardment of the rumbling of jumbo jet noise.”

Mutz took exception to the word “clandestine,” saying that the city originally planned for a maintenance and repair facility at the airport before Amazon contacted the city. “It evolved into an opportunity,” Mutz said, adding that their current contract with Amazon allows for expansion.

The amended lease increases Amazon's annual payment to the city by nearly $90,000 to $501,811.20; but the city would pay Amazon $80,000 per year to reimburse the company $1.2 million to pay for the expansion.

Airport officials said  they would see an estimated $155,000 annual increase in landing and fuel flowage fees from each additional aircraft. There would also be an estimated $108,500 annual increase to ground lease rent in years 6-10 to hold Amazon's right to expand on 49.8 acres next to their sorting facility. Overall, airport officials are projecting annual cumulative impacts to be near $600,000.

City Financial Director Mike Brossart pointed out that it makes financial sense to allow the expansion of a taxiway that the city was going to expand regardless of Amazon’s presence.

“Amazon is lending us $1.2 million over 15 years and they're not charging us interest,” Brossart said. “Just at 4%, that’s $400,000” in savings.

Airport Assistant Director Adam Lunn said Amazon officials are hoping to have the construction finished by October.

More coverage: Amazon scales back Lakeland Linder expansion plans - The Ledger

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to Jazbablog in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.

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