COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council has decided the Columbia Regional Airport needs a $38 million terminal, and they know where they want it built. 

Planners with consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff delivered their recommendation to city staff and council members Monday night, advising that a new terminal be built north of the existing terminal. However, a plan to pay for a new terminal hasn't been finalized. 

Project manager Jennifer Kuchinski explained that Parsons Brickenhoff will work through the summer to come up with a detailed financial plan, a timeline for the construction and an overview of the project's environmental impact.

The company will then send a layout plan by July for the city to revise and approve before sending it before the Federal Aviation Administration. By the end of 2016, the city hopes to have a detailed airport plan approved to start construction.

Terminal plans

The new terminal would be south of Route H and east of U.S. 63 and will require an access road from Route H.

Kuchinski said the new terminal will be more than 50,000 square feet — over twice the size of the existing terminal. Plans for the north terminal include up to four boarding gates and call for a parking lot near the terminal.

The north location was selected from three options that consultants have weighed over the past two years.

FAA projections show a need for the Columbia airport to accommodate 120,000 enplanements — the number of people boarding planes — and to provide about 1,200 parking spots over the next 20 years. The new site, however, would accommodate up to 190,000 enplanements and provide 1,880 parking spots with further expansion.

In 2015, there were about 65,000 enplanements and 630 parking spots available. If the new terminal is built, the existing parking spaces would no longer be used. 

The two other options were to expand the current terminal or to build a new terminal to the south of the airport. Both options were cheaper than the north location, with an approximate cost of $30 million to expand the current terminal and $35 million for the south location. 

Parsons Brinckerhoff aviation planner Adam Novak said expanding the existing terminal was the most disruptive and difficult of the three options. He said expansion wouldn't allow the airport to separate commercial flights from general aviation, and it would also force the construction of parking spaces as far as a 15-minute walk from the terminal.

Mayor Brian Treece asked why expanding the new terminal would cost about 30 percent less than building one from scratch.

Kuchinski said that though the existing terminal site would cost more per square foot, it already has some parking spaces and an aircraft ramp which the north option doesn't, hence decreasing its potential cost.

The south option was rejected because it wouldn't allow for more parking spaces to be built if further expansion is required, as the north option does.

Paying for the terminal

Funding for a new airport terminal remains unclear.

The city expects that FAA grants will cover half the $38 million cost. However, City Manager Mike Matthes said, the city has to first come up with $19 million in matching funds, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Such a local match might involve passing a parking fee and securing county and state funding, as well as increasing the city's lodging tax to 5 percent from 4 percent.

Treece said that he was reluctant to accept the $38 million option and asked the consultant group to see if the price could be reduced.

"I want the best terminal at the best location at the lowest price," Treece said. "I struggle how to get there, but I also struggle with paying $40 million for that."

An ordinance to put the lodging tax increase on the Aug. 2 ballot was introduced at the Monday night City Council meeting. The tax would be in place for up to 23 years, and the revenue from it would be used "for tourism and economic development purposes including construction of a new airport terminal and related improvements," according to the ballot language. 

Treece said he would like to have the tax's lifespan reduced and proposed that council members consider at the May 16 council meeting whether to end the increase if new funding sources are found. Treece proposed leasing or selling the current airport terminal once the new one is finished and trying to convince Jefferson City officials to invest in the airport.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters said that they would support paying off debt incurred to build a new terminal by leasing the old terminal but wouldn't be comfortable getting rid of the tax increase sooner, as the revenue could be used for other regional efforts.

Supervising editor is William Schmitt

  • Reporter, Public Life beat Spring 2016. Undergraduate | Spanish exchange student Twitter: @david4soler

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