Columbia City Council to consider money for airport expansion

Sunday, August 19, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council will vote on two resolutions Monday that could lay the groundwork for Columbia Regional Airport's expansion.

One resolution would appropriate $50,000 to design a new terminal for the airport. The other would transfer $166,855.24 to build a new baggage claim area and modify the current one to add passenger seating. 

These resolutions follow the airport's recent addition of flights to Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta. With these new flights, and efforts under way to attract more, the airport is in dire need of an expansion, City Manager Mike Matthes said.

“It will be bursting at the seams,” he said after a council budget meeting Saturday morning.

The modification of the baggage claim area would make it possible for the airport to handle a jet holding more than 100 passengers or two regional jets at the same time, according to the resolution. This would be paid for by transferring funds given to the city by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 2011 blizzard.

Matthes joins Mayor Bob McDavid in urging an expansion of the airport. At a news conference Thursday, McDavid called the terminal’s lack of capacity a “crisis.”

The terminal’s design will take three months and its construction will take about three years, Matthes said. The city should attract new flights before it increases the airport’s capacity, he said.

“Get them to come; then we’ll build it,” Matthes said.

At the Thursday news conference, McDavid discussed the possibility of selling bonds to fund the terminal expansion and suggested a sales tax increase to pay for the bonds. In the past, city officials have considered raising Columbia's tax on hotel and motel rooms to pay for the new terminal.

If the council approves the appropriation, this $50,000 will not be enough to complete a design of a new terminal, Matthes said. He predicted that a detailed design could cost as much as $1.5 million. However, that amount is enough to get the efforts started, he said.

In January, architectural firm Reynolds, Smith & Hills completed a design for a terminal renovation that would cost an estimated $17.1 million. Matthes said that design was more of a concept drawing and not detailed enough to use.

At Saturday's budget meeting, Matthes emphasized the need for a $3 million revenue guarantee to bring more airlines into Columbia. Under such an agreement, the city would reimburse the airlines for up to $3 million in losses they might incur from adding the flights.

“It’s basically the only way to get them to come to us,” Matthes said after the meeting. “It’s a big risk for them.”

Matthes said the city did not offer revenue guarantees to Frontier Airlines, which announced Thursday that it would offer twice-weekly flights between Columbia and Orlando starting Nov. 20.

McDavid has branded his effort to increase business at the airport the "40 in 2020" initiative, which sets a goal for Columbia Regional Airport to host 40 percent of mid-Missouri airline travel by 2020. Matthes estimates that the airport will have to double its airline traffic to reach McDavid’s goal.

Matthes said he believes that an expansion of the airport is crucial to maintaining Columbia’s economic competitiveness.

“We all know how many opportunities we have come in second on because of the airport,” he said at the meeting.

Matthes said one of these opportunities was a veterinary medicine company from Barcelona that was looking for a town where it could locate a factory offering 300 jobs, Matthes said. Columbia was a finalist.

“Then they looked at the airport,” Matthes said. The jobs went to Ames, Iowa, instead.

The City Council will meet 7 p.m. Monday at Daniel Boone City Building.

Supervising editor is Ted Hart.

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Richard Saunders August 20, 2012 | 11:39 a.m.

Given the rate of economic decay, I'm guessing the "40 in 2020" is the number of people expected to be left by then that will be able to afford to fly.

And they'll all have government jobs.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 20, 2012 | 3:23 p.m.

Ellis may know the answer, but how comparable is the Ames airport to Columbia's? I used to commute via car about monthly to work in Ames, but don't recall the airport arrangements. I'm wondering if that company flies into Des Moines instead?

Also would be interesting to find out just how many jobs were created by that company and how often they actually fly. I'm not convinced that spending $17 million on a new terminal, plus unknown millions more for runway and such improvements are going to have the return on investment that the city thinks.

(Report Comment)

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