ST. LUCIE COUNTY — St. Lucie County officials tried to attract Breeze Airways to Treasure Coast International Airport last year, but may have lost out to Vero Beach Regional Airport, which landed Breeze earlier this year.
County documents obtained by TCPalm include dozens of emails between county employees, some of whom have since left their jobs, and Breeze officials, as well as at least one other airline company. The interaction with is shown.
The proposal, which came before Breeze announced it had selected Vero Beach Regional Airport as its destination, included an in-person meeting at the St. Lucie County Airport and a non-disclosure agreement signed between the airline and the county. It was included. Discussions included ongoing work on the runway and emerging possibilities for a new terminal.
No deal was reached, and Breeze eventually began flying from Vero Beach, but county officials continue to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to approve a commercial permit that would allow the airline to operate off-site.
Port St. Lucie eagerly awaits news from the county.
Speculation about bringing commercial aircraft to Treasure Coast International Airport spilled over into last month’s Port St. Lucie City Council meeting, adding fuel to the fire that an announcement could be coming soon.
Councilwoman Stephanie Morgan said she heard the news about the airport at the Oct. 11 county Tourism Development Council meeting.
“We have great news coming soon,” Morgan said.
Mayor Shannon Martin and Councilman Anthony Bona urged her to speak out more.
“I think by the end of next year we’ll know the name of…” Morgan said before the mayor jumped in.
“Oh, say it,” Martin urged her.
“That’s the name of the commercial airline that’s coming in,” Morgan concluded.
Morgan’s teasing prompted some members of the council to request more information, but no names were released at the meeting, he said. Morgan did not respond to a request for further comment.
Documents show St. Lucy tried to get Breeze
County documents shed some light on efforts to recruit passenger airlines, but do not indicate that contracts with airlines were made contingent on FAA approval. A county spokesperson said they have not yet received a response to the application.
Starting in early 2022, former airport executive director Stan Payne, who also oversees the Port of Fort Pierce, began communicating with Breeze Airlines officials about something called “Project Sunrise,” according to emails obtained from the county. I started taking it.
In January 2022, Payne sent an email to Brian McCormick, one of Breeze’s directors.
“Our airport is planning some strategic moves in the new year, so I look forward to discussing them in the coming days,” Payne wrote on January 4, 2022.
McCormick responded to a question Jan. 19 about using the airport’s new hangar for a week in February. Payne responded the same day, saying the hangar will remain available as it won’t have a permanent tenant for some time, and provided a brief update on the airport’s FAA approval process, which has already begun.
During the remainder of January, Payne updated McCormick and Breeze Vice President of Government and Airport Affairs Eric Fletcher on the airport’s progress, including runway analysis and potential new terminals. Continued to provide the latest information.
After further discussions about the hangar in early February, McCormick was scheduled to come by for a “casual visit” that same day on February 22, along with Jim Smith, Breeze’s vice president of airport planning and corporate real estate development. I asked Mr. Payne if that was the case.
Payne confirmed he could be reached, but no further emails mentioned the visit.
Over the next month, the conversation expanded beyond county officials.
On March 3, 2022, Mr. Payne introduced Mr. McCormick to Pete Tesch, chairman of the St. Lucie Economic Development Council, via email. Breeze, EDC and the county ultimately negotiated a 12-month non-disclosure agreement with him. Tesch later admitted to Payne that he was “surprised that they signed,” apparently because the airline originally wanted a 36-month contract.
Negotiations appear to be progressing well, with McCormick, Fletcher, Payne and former county governor Howard Tipton meeting at the airport on April 22 to discuss the airport’s proposals for Breeze, regulatory Three issues were on the agenda: hurdles and a review of possible financial incentives.
Payne followed Fletcher in expressing his excitement about the possibility of Brees coming to St. Lucie County.
“Thank you for visiting today, Eric. I hope I can convey some of the enthusiasm with which St. Lucie County embraces Brees (Howard, Eric, and I are in a rather pragmatic position. ) our commissioner and marketer),” Payne said in an email. “Please let us know if you need anything as the decision-making process continues.”
Mr Fletcher responded that he looked forward to “ongoing discussions”.
But that was the last email between Brees and Payne or other county officials, according to obtained county records.
Six months later, in October 2022, Breeze announced it would begin flying from Vero Beach.
Payne appeared to be in contact with at least one other airline, Avero Airlines. Just before its first flight from Vero, Breeze announced promotional fares for some of its first flights. Payne forwarded the announcement to Avero Airport Director Bud Hafer, who provided a one-word response.
Payne resigned six months later, in April 2023.
He was succeeded by Cameron Howard, who was appointed airport director after the port and airport were separated due to reorganization.
According to an email obtained by TCPalm, Mr. Howard has not been in contact with the passenger airline.
Effect of commercial status
If the airport receives FAA approval to attract commercial airlines, existing customs and border protection facilities will be able to accommodate flights from international destinations such as the Bahamas. These facilities are currently used by international charter travelers and independent travelers.
Although it has struggled to break even at times, the airport is already providing an economic boost to the region even without commercial flights. A 2022 study by the Florida Department of Transportation found an economic impact of $547 million for the region.
Morgan told the Port St. Lucie City Council last month that the possibilities surrounding the airport only add to the exciting future that lies ahead for St. Lucie County and the city.
“The turnpike interchange, the I-95 interchange improvements, the ports, hopefully the Brightline stop in Fort Pierce, the international airport…what more can I say?” she said.
Wicker Perlis is a TCPalm surveillance reporter for St. Lucie County. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 504-331-0516.