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The FAA blocks Sarasota airport's land sale to New College

An aerial view of the land that New College currently leases from airport, shaded in a rust color, and plans to purchase for $11.5 million
An aerial view of the land that New College currently leases from the airport and wanted to purchase for $11.5 million.

Federal aviation authorities have been expected to weigh in on the deal, which must be done at fair market value and meet other criteria determined by the agency.

Federal aviation authorities have blocked a proposed deal for the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport to sell about 30 acres of land to New College of Florida.

Reasons for the denial were not immediately clear. The boards of both the airport and New College had in recent weeks agreed to the $11.5 million deal, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval.

"The FAA has notified the airport that the FAA has declined to approve the request to release the land for sale to New College," airport president Rick Piccolo said Friday.

"The airport does not agree with this initial determination and will pursue further discussions on this matter."

Asked for comment, the FAA said in an email that its "policy is to strengthen the national airports system," and that "a final determination" on the land sale "has not been made at this time."

In recent weeks, a retired airport leasing official raised questions about why the fast-growing airport would seek to sell the land, and pointed out that the appraisal did not account for the value of the buildings on the land, which could have doubled the sale price.

New College has been leasing the land for decades as part of a 100-year agreement that expires in 2056.

Piccolo denied any political influence in the decision, saying the rent New College pays is far below market value, and that the arrangement also helped secure a land swap for a much smaller parcel that protects one of the airport's runway approaches.

Bill Galvano, New College's board lawyer, described it as "a great deal and a well-negotiated deal."

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.