Groundbreaking for the three-year construction project is scheduled for early 2007, pending an expected record of decision from the Federal Aviation Administration this fall, says Tom Reddaway, project manager with San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. It is the architect and engineer for the $240-million airport relocation. Click here to view map

The airport is the centerpiece of the West Bay Sector Plan, an ambitious 74,000-acre long-term development for the Gulf Coast. Initial steps in the land-use plan include building 4.4 million sq ft of industrial, commercial and retail space. Another component is establishing a 37,000-acre conservation area, including nearly the entire shoreline of West Bay.

Jacksonville-based St. Joe Co. offered the acreage to airport officials several years ago during their search for a new site and the offer was approved late last year. “It’s good for our shareholders,” says Nathan Sparks, economic development director for St. Joe. “It adds value to our assets.” The company sees the donation as a necessary investment for growth—15,000 new condo units have already been built in the past 18 months.

The 98,000-sq-ft new terminal, nearing conceptual design completion, will be ready to accept both low-cost carriers and legacy carriers at five or six gates, says Reddaway. “We’re meeting frequently with the Transportation Security Administration folks,” he adds.

The new airport, located north of the current one and across West Bay, is needed because the old one’s 6,000-ft-long runway does not meet FAA safety requirements, says Kip Turner, airport executive assistant. A safety waiver expires in 2015, but congestion, residential encroachment, military air space conflicts and runway flooding during hurricanes make the replacement more urgent.

The new airport will have two runways, including one that eventually will reach 12,000 ft in length, Turner says. The annual 400,000 passengers using the current airport is expected to grow to 600,000 by 2020, he adds. Ted Clem, executive director of Bay County Economic Development Alliance, notes that cargo operations and commercial activity will be a big part of the airport. Almost 900 acres will be set aside directly adjacent to the runways for such activity.

Officials currently are in the process of reviewing requests for proposals to sell the old 713-acre airport.

onstruction of the first U.S. greenfield airport in the 21st Century is about to become a reality. The building of a new Panama City-Bay County airport is being spurred by a donation of 4,000 acres by Florida’s biggest real estate developer, regional growth and safety issues at the old facility.