Voters in the Republican Primary in Charlotte County have a choice between two very different candidates for the Airport Authority District 1 seat. Vanessa Oliver and Bob Starr are both vying for the position, which has held by Commissioner Pam Seay for 24 years.
Oliver is an attorney and the daughter of State Rep. Mike Grant. She serves as the chief administrative officer of his company, Ambitrans. She grew up in the area, attended the College of William and Mary, and returned to Florida for law school at the University of Florida. After working at a firm in Eustis, she and her husband returned to Charlotte County about eight years ago.
She’s running for the Airport Authority because it’s “so vitally important for our community,” and she said she was raised to give back where she can and she believes her skill set fits the job.
Oliver has worked with the Economic Development Partnership and is on the United Way board, whose goal is to eliminate poverty. She wants to create high-paying jobs in the area, so it’s a place where her children will one day have opportunities, and multiple generations can live and thrive together.
She wants to bring more passengers through the airport by continuing the airport’s relationship with Allegiant and pursuing additional airlines with the incentive of low costs. She also wants to bring more ancillary services to generate revenue, such as a hotel and more restaurants.
Finally, Oliver hopes to bring more tenants to the industrial park. She believes the airport should approach companies that are currently looking to save on costs and maybe hoping to return from overseas. With no state income tax and infrastructure already in place, she said it’s ripe for opportunity.
“At the end of the day, I care so much about this community,” she said. “I love it here.”
Starr has different priorities when it comes to the airport. He is a former Charlotte County commissioner and prior chairman of the Republican Party in Charlotte County. He said he was ready to retire but got into the race because of the noise from planes flying over his home.
In recent years, it’s become “unbearable,” he said. Starr believes as a commissioner, he would be able to change the flight patterns to reduce noise from planes in eastern Charlotte County. He believes it’s a simple matter of redirecting them over DeSoto County, rather than over areas like Deep Creek, Charlotte Harbor and Ridge Harbor.
“This is a simple fix and a big problem,” he said.
However, Oliver said a study by the Federal Aviation Administration shows the noise isn’t a huge issue. While it’s subjective, she said at her home in Deep Creek, she doesn’t find the noise to be intrusive.
Starr also believes the airport should be making more money from Allegiant. In a comparable airport, he said there would be an $8.25 deplaning fee per passenger, but at the Punta Gorda Airport, they pay only 27 cents.
He also thinks Allegiant is unlikely to finish Sunseeker Resort in Charlotte Harbor and believes someone needs to “hold their feet to the fire.”
Oliver said she doesn’t see how the Airport Authority would have any ability to make the company finish Sunseeker, and she believes the current low-cost model is good for both the airport, consumers, and Allegiant.
“It’s working,” she said. “We have a different model, but I would stake our finances on any airport in the country.”
Like Oliver, Starr also believes in bringing more business and development to the area around the airport, and he believes he has the skills to make that happen. He helped bring Cheney Brothers to the area when he was on the County Commission and worked for Procter & Gamble for 27 years. He said the board needs to be proactive and could take steps such as hiring a marketing firm to find the best for for the area.
“You need to go out and look for people,” he said. “You’ve got to ask for the order.”