Westlake Mayor Floats Idea For Helipad/Vertiport At New Park

The Westlake entrance sign.

Westlake Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor thinks he may have landed on an idea that could take off.

At a Tuesday, May 21 joint meeting of the Westlake City Council and the Seminole Improvement District (SID) Board of Supervisors, O’Connor suggested a space in the area’s soon-to-be constructed regional park be set aside for a vertiport — a physical structure that allows for the arrival, departure and parking of automated, battery-powered aircraft that take off and land vertically.

“This is going to be the future of mobility, and not that far into the future — within 10 years,” O’Connor told the group. “We’re building a city from the ground up. This is a rare opportunity to be ahead of the curve.”

A vertiport for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, known as eVTOLs, already has been approved for Palm Beach International Airport. Plans also are in the works for vertiports in Miami and Orlando. Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City also have their eyes on vertiport facilities.

“One of the biggest problems we have out here in the western communities is getting around… imagine going from here to Miami in 20 minutes,” said O’Connor, who sits on the Florida League of Cities Transportation & Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency Technical Advisory Committee.

In the meantime, a small area in the 50-acre park can be used for Trauma Hawk landings, O’Connor said, noting that having a landing zone in the park also might create funding or grant opportunities through the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, which operates the air ambulances.

Kenneth Cassel, who manages both the city and the district, said a vertiport is not merely pie in a far-off sky.

“I see a number of places trying to introduce it,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we be one of the first ones out here?”

Cassel said a vertiport could be used by increasingly well-heeled Westlake residents, plus others from the surrounding area, such as Wellington.

“We’ll have the [electrical] power and the parking lot already there,” said Supervisor Scott Massey, president of the SID board. “This could be easily accommodated.”

O’Connor called it a way to “future-proof” the community.

“We bill ourselves as ‘the Innovative City of Westlake.’ It’s even on our business cards,” O’Connor said. “This is a chance to show we really, truly can be an innovative city.”

Meanwhile, council members and supervisors heard that environmental permits from Palm Beach County are finally in hand for the park, which is on the west side of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road abutting Seminole Ridge High School to the north.

SID officials had hoped to start contouring the land for drainage in January but were held up by the permitting. Cassel said work should begin in mid-June and be complete by the end of September. Afterward, the reshaped ground will be mulched and seeded with grass.

Residents should be able to begin enjoying the park’s greenspace in the first quarter of next year, and plans are to hold the 2025 FourthFest Fourth of July celebration there, he said.

Cassel has said that work on the park will be done in phases as the money becomes available.

Initial plans call for a large central space plus six soccer/sports fields with the infrastructure to later install field lighting. On the east side of the park, paved parking for at least 45 cars, 90 golf carts and more than a dozen food trucks with utility hook-ups is planned, plus restrooms.

In time, plans call for parking for 275 cars and 190 golf carts; a shaded tot-lot; basketball, pickle ball, tennis, racquetball and beach volleyball courts; large and smaller concert areas; and a dog park.

A six-foot-wide asphalt path framing the entire area is part of the design. A community/multi-purpose/possible government center of at least 7,000 square feet also is anticipated in a later phase.

The entire project will cost approximately $13 million, Massey said. At the moment, Westlake/SID have some $1.4 million in hand.

“I don’t think SID would be in position to do any additional bonding,” Massey said regarding financing the project. “Unless we have a windfall… we’ll have to just peck away at it and keep going.”