New Airport Names New Executive Director

There has been some changes in management at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  Former Executive Director Randy Curtis has been moved to a different role, Director of Special Projects and John Wheat was named the Executive Director.  This move came quickly with little fanfare and only but a little commotion from one of the board members who held the only dissenting vote – Andy McKenzie.  McKenzie’s quarrel with the swift action was that it was just that, too fast.

In the past, airport positions have been well publicized, accepted many resumes and have opened up discussion for the board in advance.  The hiring of Wheat was fast, not well discussed in public and actually slipped through in the board meeting without his name being mentioned.

The quick movements were justified by other board members by the time-sensitive negotiations the board was in with Southwest and Delta Airlines over future landing fees.  As of date, the airlines have not been happy with the pace of negotiations and the new appointments were expected to accelerate a final agreement.  Landing fees are a significant revenue generator for the airport.  Concurrent with the appointment of Wheat as the new executive director, both airlines and St. Joe gave their nod of approval of Wheat as well.

Another appointment was made as well: Parker McClellan as the Deputy Executive Director.

I bet you’re wondering how much all these guys make.  I know I sure was.  In an article recently released in the News Herald, the annual salaries were noted:  John Wheat, Executive Director, $135,000; Parker McClellan, Deputy Executive Director, $100,000; Randy Curtis, Director of Special Projects, $116,000.

Here is the full press release:

Panama City, Fla. (April 27, 2011) – The Airport Authority has named John Wheat as the executive director of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. As executive director, Wheat is responsible for leading the operational and strategic efforts of the Airport and reports to the Airport Authority Board of Directors. Wheat brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the aviation industry and most recently served as COO of the Tampa International Airport, where he was responsible for the organization’s finances and operations, as well as brings valued relationships with key partners.

The Airport Authority has also introduced a new organizational model for the Airport with a leadership team that is well-positioned to take the organization forward. This includes Parker McClellan as Deputy Executive Director and Randy Curtis as Director of Special Projects. McClellan, who most recently served as the acting director for the Airport, is now the Deputy Executive Director to ensure a comprehensive leadership team with all airport activity working through this position and up to the Executive Director. Curtis will play an important role in the closing of the “old airport”, as well as ensuring the airport maintains positive relationships with various state and federal agencies. His historical and institutional knowledge will be valuable to the upcoming work on behalf of this organization.

With the addition of John Wheat, the Northwest Florida Beaches International leadership team brings the vision, experience and relationships to best leverage one of the community’s greatest assets. This strategic leadership team is focused on driving the region’s economic vitality as they lead the first international airport to open in more than 10 years. The gateway to beautiful world-famous beaches, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport boasts a plethora of convenient flights daily serviced by Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.

$3 Movies at The Grand Theatre – Panama City Beach

Every Saturday,The Grand Theatre in Pier Park will feature family-friendly movies for only $3. That is not a misprint. $3 movies for families and that’s not all. The cost includes a small box of popcorn and a kid’s drink.

Show starts at 11:00 am, seating at 10:30.

Schedule of Saturday Morning Movies Showings:

Sept 26 Shark Tale

Oct 03 Madagascar

Oct 10 Flushed Away

Oct 17 Shrek 1

Oct 24 Sinbad – Legend of the Seven Seas

Oct 31 Prince of Egypt

Nov 07 Madagascar 2

Nov 14 Bee Movie

Nov 21 Shrek 2

Nov 28 No Movie

Dec 05 Chicken Run

Dec 12 Over the Hedge

Dec 19 Kung Fu Panda

The Grand Theatres are state-of-the art multiplex stadium seating movie theatres with 3D capabilities, digital sound, high-back rocker seats, a specialty café and a game room. Panama City Beach’s Grand 16, is the centerpiece of Pier Park. Patrons can not only enjoy movies, but shop and dine as well.

Airport: No New Name, Serious Grass Problems

While the buzz surrounding Tuesday’s airport board meeting centered around the potential new name for the 318 million dollar gamechanger, it was talk of grass and sod that dominated the meeting. In fact, due to the overwhelming interest in the new name, a special meeting, to be held October 7th, will address that issue specifically. Although, many attending the meeting didn’t get what they came for, the very tense discussion on the condition of soil and stabilization of areas through the airport kept everyone’s attention.

James Phoenix, from Phoenix Construction, said with a pang of exasperation in his voice, “We’ve got some issues, multiple issues and we need help.”

Heavy rain and inconclusive studies on the soil at the airport site have caused the development of large areas to be completely reworked and the bill to keep rising. Large stretches of land, nearly 1400 hundred acres worth, which was believed to be stabilized, faltered under harsh rain causing all the grass to die off. Runway areas and ditches in need of regrading, have caused the most problems for site staff. “The soil condition is not what we anticipated,” said George Roberts of PBS&J, “The grass is growing and then dying off from a lack of organics. We cannot make the grass grow within the specs.”

The suggestion from airport representatives to sod the area was met with heavy contention from the board. Mr. Bill Cramer, Vice Chairman of the airport board, questioned the airport staff as to why the board was not notified of the issues in compliance with permits and what happened to the additional $500,000 dollars added to the budget to mitigate the problems.

Although no final word was reached, sodding the 1400 hundred acres could cost an additional $1 million dollars. Recommendations will be brought to the board and discussed in the coming meeting.

In other news, the airport is reported to be at 73% complete overall with 93% of the site development package completed.

The next board meeting is scheduled for October 7th

Airport Authority Granted $4 Mil for State-of-the-Art Baggage System

IMG_1263The Panama City-Bay County International Airport Authority today announced that it has been awarded a Transportation Security Administration grant of just over $4 million dollars for a new Checked Baggage Inspection System at the new airport now under construction.

The grant will also be used for subsequent modifications needed for TSA to install an Explosive Detection system. The new airport is one of several airports to receive this system.

The state of the art security equipment is designed to enhance screening capabilities and airport safety and also facilitate customer service. Construction of the $318 million airport began in January 2008 and is scheduled to open in late May 2010.

Steve Earnest, Federal Security Director said, “This technology will strengthen security and streamline the baggage screening process.” He added, “This baggage handling system will better enable Panama City-Bay County International Airport to detect explosives and other threats while allowing for the growth of the new airport.”

What this means for you is a faster, safer and more efficient Checkin process, essentially cutting out additional lines and steps in getting you from the counter to the plane. As the representatives explained, this comprehensive system will allow patrons to give their bags at the Checkin counter, which will go through a behind the scenes screening process and out the door back to you safely and without waiting in any additional lines. The new technology will improve workplace safety for TSA employees by automating the baggage screening process, eliminating the need for passengers to walk checked baggage to a screening location and waiting for it to be cleared before proceeding to the security checkpoint. It will be the most up to date, efficient system in America.

The enhanced explosive detection technology also will provide on-screen viewing capabilities for TSA officers conducting baggage screening and reduce the number of re-scans and physical bag searches.

Governor Crist Visits New Airport – Called It "Awesome"

Florida Governor Charlie Crist visited the Panama City-Bay County International airport today and upon surveying the nearly completed site, said emphatically, “This is awesome.”  With few invited to be in attendance, the energy was high in anticipation and excitement to see what the Governor thought of not only the newest airport in the state of Florida, but the first airport built from scratch in the USA in 14 years.

Hosted by the Economic Development Alliance (EDA), the Govornor was invited to tour the new airport terminal and the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

In attendance was Jerry Ray, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communication of St. Joe, Representative Jimmy Patronis, Representative Marti Coley, Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill, Airport Authority Vice Chairman Bill Cramer, TDC CEO Dan Rowe, and various other local officials, board members and the like.  Everyone was excited to show of the growing new addition to Panama City that will open in just 8 short months.

The goal of today’s get together was to show the Govornor the “economic engine” that will not only catapult our little area to the big map, but also drive jobs and economic growth to Panama City Beach.  Representative remarked today that he had “goosebumps” as he had not been up there since they broke ground.  I’m sure it was an amazing sight to see having not been there for that long.  I feel honored that the airport authority has been so gracious in allowing pcbdaily to cover the progress so closely.

Sometimes it is easy to forget just how close we are to planes landing at the new airport.  Today, Chairman Tannehill made mention to Crist that the airport will open May 18, 2010.

“We are on schedule and under budget,” said Chairman Joe Tannehill to Governor Crist during the period he had to brief the Governor on what was happening on site.  “We are all set to open May 18th, 2010.”

“I travel the state quite a bit and to see what’s happening in Bay County is nothing short of phenomenal,” remarked Gov. Crist.

On a side note, I was able to get a little time with Chairman Tannehill, Board member Rick Koehnemann, and Jerry Ray and all three agreed that a new brand and name was needed for the new airport to depict a more regional presence.  Chairman Tannehill said that this was something that would be discussed in the near future.

Suggest your names in the comments section below!

Airport bringing in third-party for commercial and industrial development

This news is a little stale, but I needed to get this up.

The Airport Authority decided last week to bring in a third-party developer to manage the development of the 1,400 acres set aside for commercial and industrial uses.  Authority members voted for Jones Lang LeSalle over four other companies including Hunt Development Group, St. Joe/Haskell, Taylor & Mathis and TranSystems.

The Jones Lang LeSalle website touts that they are a global company with over 750 locations worldwide, and they manage properties in countries ranging from India to New Zealand and everywhere in between.  They will bring their expertise here not only to ensure that the area around the airport is developed correctly, but that it has the best opportunity to be occupied by quality businesses and/or services.

I think this is great as it, again, opens up our area to people and organizations that are outside our market and operate on a much larger scale.

Airport Authority Board Meeting Agenda



             BOARD MEETING

DATE:            November 20, 2008

TIME:            10:00 a.m.

PLACE:            Board Room, Second Floor, Terminal Building



  1. Board Chairman – Call Meeting to Order
    1. Invocation
    2. Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag
    3. Roll Call
  2. Approval of Minutes:
    1. October 28, 2008 – Board Meeting Minutes
  3. Airport Director’s Reports
    1. Activity Report
    2. Financial Report
    3. Airport Relocation Project Report
  4. Business Items:
    1. Banner Tow Agreement – East Moriches
    2. Banner Tow Agreement – Meek’s Aerial Advertising
    3. Updated Retirement Services Agreement
    4. SheltAir Sublease – Flight Deck Aviation
    5. Purchase of Capital Vision Software Application
    6. Award Bid for Utilities Package
    7. Temporary Power to Construction Site
  5. Other Business:
    1. 2009 Board Meeting Schedule
  6. Public Comments:
  7. Adjournment and Meeting Schedule:
    1. Board Meeting December 19, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. 

Airport Terminal Contract Awarded

After nearly two weeks of brainstorming, collaboration, and value engineering, Walbridge and HNTB came back with just over $10 million in savings.  This is still $3 million more than originally budgeted, but the reduction is $5 million greater than estimated at the last meeting.

Not a quarrel was made about the savings, but there was plenty of discussion about the fee at which HNTB was to charge for the services rendered in order to perform the savings exercise.  We’ll get into that is a bit, but first, lets discuss the savings and what they entail.

Among other things, the terminal canopy is being reduced “dramatically”.  The renderings have changed, reflecting the overall look of the new terminal.  The new canopy will be of a different material with the materials used for the wall structure consisting of steel frame that will be covered with stucco – replacing the previous wall of windows.  The savings in the canopy modifications alone ring in around $1 million.

In the redesign of the terminal, the architecture firm was striving to keep consistent with the “Florida Cracker” look and feel using wood and other natural-looking materials.  The trellis arrangement that was originally to be visible from the inside of the terminal has been removed from the plans with the structure support now coming from a series of columns, some visible and others built into the walls.

Also, instead of purchasing new passenger bridges that will pass passengers to the aircraft, the board will purchase “pre-owned” bridges.

One of the largest savings came with a modification of the baggage handling/screening process.  The original system, the way I understand it, consisted of a sophisticated automatic process that far exceeded the minimum safety requirements of the TSA. A savings of $1.6 million brought in a system that still meets TSA requirements, but isn’t as “fancy” as the original system.

Now the topic of much debate.  Why should the Airport Authority Board have to pay a fee to HNTB for the redesign process that was to get the cost back down to budget.  This is a very valid point in that, if I tell you a web site I build for you will be one price, then after we work through a process to determine your needs and hammer out all the details, the price is 25% more than the original quote, then I charge you money to work through with you to get the price back down to budget, is that right?

Well, I’m afraid the answer is actually quite a bit more complex than that.  In fact, it is probably quite a bit more complex than I understand.

You see, it all started in April or May of this year when the bid was 95% complete and all the numbers still looked on target.  As one of the board members so pointedly put it, “so the terminal went over budget $14 million in the last 5%?”

Jeff Dealy, with KBR, explained this as sort of an anomaly.  With materials costs rising sharply right around the April/May time period and the “bid sheets hitting the streets” at that same time, the bids the architecture firm was receiving from its consultants were coming in higher than originally anticipated.  The problem is that today was the first many had heard of this; and the question is who’s fault is it?

The Airport Authority Board insists that the fault lies with HNTB.  Joe Tannehill stated that if HNTB had noticed the costs going out of control, they should have said something early on so as not to have had to go through this excersise in the first place.  Board member Bill Cramer was pushing for an “outside” number, a “not to exceed” estimate on the fee HNTB would be charging the board to perform the VE excersise.  At the time of the meeting, HNTB didn’t have the fee number solidified and was unprepared to give a quote.  Joe Tannehill stated that he didn’t beleive there should be a fee at all because if the architecture firm was “doing their job”, they would be at budget.

After around 30 minutes of rather interesting dialogue, Chairman Tannehill made a motion to have a recess and return at 12 giving HNTB time to figure out what the fee would be and to return with a suitable number.

The decision had to be make today, so the Board needed all the information so as to eliminate as many future unknowns as possible.

After the recess, it was decided by HNTB that the fee cost would be more than what was considered suitable, but that they would cap it at $500,000.

It was suggested by Andy McKenzie that HNTB only charge the Board the direct costs it incured and payed out to outside consultants that HNTB did not own.

A motion was made and passed to approve the bid and award the contract with the allowance of the board to address who was going to pay for HNTB’s fee.

That was it as I understand it, please feel free to correct anything I said if it was wrong or the wrong assumption was made at any point.

Mr. Minor, will you please send me an email as I’d like to pick your brain a little on the dynamics of all of this.

New Airport Runway Deeper, but Not Longer – yet.

In a somewhat boring meeting that was exciting at the same time, the Airport Authority unanimously accepted the lowest bid for the terminal, with the stipulation that they needed to come back $4 to $6 million less than where they were at.  If that confuses you, let me clarify, because it was confusing to me at first.

The bid for construction was awarded to Walbridge, who was the low bidder at $68 million.  The Airport Authority had determined a budget of $54 million for the terminal based on preliminary studies and had confirmed this as recently as May of this year.  Former Panama City Mayor Gerry Clemons pointedly asked what changed between May and now to cause an increase of $14 million and after not being answered once, he asked again.  Again David Hanson of Walbridge danced around and avoided the question.  The gracious Joe Tannehill eloquently stated “we are where we are”, indicating he was ready to move on from that particular merry-go-round.  Mr. Tannehill asked Hanson and a representative from HNTB, the architecture firm, whether they had been in communication and working together to come up with the best solution to cut costs without effecting the overall usability, quality, and public appearance of the new airport terminal.  The answer was a quick no, only not said in so few words.  Again, Mr. Tannehill so eloquently stated that if they didn’t come together, they would be both looking for work as the airport job wouldn’t be a job their firms would have any longer. The two firms assured the board that they would have a presentation in a week specifying the approach that would lower the costs an additional $4 to $6 million and they would have a suitable, acceptable contract for the bid on or before October 7th.  Wow, say that out loud – what a mouthful.

Mr. Jeff Dealy, in his construction update, announced that currently, test strips were being laid down for the runway.

The Board unanimously approved increasing the runway depth to 15 inches with the top layer consisting of concrete.  It was discussed lightly the need to go ahead and construct the entire 10,000 feet of the runway, which is an extension of the initial 8,400 feet.  This was not voted on as they are still awaiting permitting from the FAA for the extension, and they didn’t want to “get ahead of the FAA”.  This will be formally decided upon the meeting after the permitting is approved.  Centerline lighting on the runway was also approved.

During the public participation portion of the meeting John Caylor, candidate for County Clerk and zaney “investigative reporter” tried to get in some hoopla about how the public showed they did not want the airport through vote and proceeded to talk about how St. Joe was a bunch of crooks.  John, throwing the vote on a Democratic ballot and seeing a 22% voter turnout with 54% of overall turnout voting against the airport is hardly overwhelming.  After a quite boistrous performance, he was told to leave by the Airport Cheif of Police.