Leo Treggi, the new director of the Winter Haven Municipal Airport after stepping down from that position in Leesburg, sits in the conference room of the Winter Haven Municipal Airport. -Paul Crate / Halifax Media Group
WINTER HAVEN — Leesburg plans to build a $1.2 million seaplane ramp at Leesburg International Airport, which city officials say will be vital for economic development.
But Leesburg could get some competition from Winter Haven Municipal Airport, whose director wants to expand seaplane operations there. That man is Leo Treggi, Leesburg’s former airport director.
City Manager Deric Feacher said he hired Treggi last November based on his knowledge and skill set “to expand the airport’s economic opportunities.” Treggi said he has big dreams when it comes to seaplanes and said Winter Haven is perfectly positioned to grow into the role of a seaplane capital.
He said one thing he wants to do is organize a seaplane gathering, maybe one called the International Seaplane Festival & Parade.
The event would be held in November and would involve some kind of big-lake-only competition between seaplane pilots. Treggi said he wants Bryce’s Juvenile Diabetes Foundation as a partner. The nonprofit organization serves families with children affected by Type 1 diabetes.
Winter Haven’s airport is in an unusual, if not unique, situation: It’s surrounded by six lakes. From 1,000 feet in the air, the airport “looks like an aircraft carrier,” said Jon Brown, who has operated Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base on Lake Jessie next to the airport since 1963.
On a seaplane ramp update last year, Leesburg City Manager Al Minner told city commissioners that seaplane pilots would be able to land on Lake Harris, taxi onto the airport operations area via the taxiway extension, and receive servicing from Wipaire and other business there, while also taking part in recreational seaplane activities at the seaplane base in Tavares, the city that bills itself as the “seaplane capital of the world.”
“There is a whole lot of synergy that we can trade off of from the success of our (Tavares) neighbor and bring that success next door to our airport, and one of the things that we need to do for that is build the seaplane ramp,” Minner said.
Leesburg is still rounding up grant money for the ramp project.
According to the website iflightplanner.com, there are more than 40 seaplane bases in Florida but only three are public, including the ones in Tavares and Winter Haven.
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