Friday, December 30, 2011

Manchester-Boston Regional: Hotel by airport closing parking lot

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Travelers who left cars parked at the Highlander Inn outside Manchester-Boston Regional Airport have until Saturday night to get the vehicles out of there.

Control of the property officially transfers at midnight Dec. 31 to the airport, which plans to raze the hotel and conference center because some of the buildings lie within the airport's runway protection zone.

The shuttles that have been running passengers from the hotel lot to the airport terminals for about 20 years are making their final trips over the next few days, clearing out the acres of parking spaces for the final time.

"The last two weeks have been kind of tough for all of us, knowing we were closing on the 31st," said Phil Davenport, general manager of Highlander Parking Inc.

Davenport said about 350 cars remained on site Wednesday as passengers from holiday travels returned to Manchester, took the shuttle to the lots just outside the airport property and picked up their vehicles.

The closing has been well-publicized to customers, who were told in advance they had to be out of the Highlander's lots by the end of New Year's Eve.

"The fact that we still did about 500 at Christmastime was a bit of a surprise to us," Davenport said.

Growth matched airport's

The Highlander's parking business started by using about 25 of the inn guest parking spots for airport passengers, and the operation has grown along with the airport. Davenport said the capacity is now around 850 slots for customers who have enjoyed the service, which included making reservations in advance so there was no last-minute rush to find a spot and make it to the terminal in time for check-in.

The service, which included perks like complimentary snow removal, helped develop a loyal customer base.

Davenport said several people have dropped by with things like candy and gifts for the lot and shuttle attendants.

"It's not something you see with every company," Davenport said.
Highlander parking was $8 daily. The cost at the airport's long-term lots is $10 daily.

Davenport said he and a couple of colleagues hope to open a similar business for off-airport parking, but need to find a property and investors. A deal they thought was about done recently fell through, Davenport said.

The Federal Aviation Administration designates runway protection zones for safety, trying to keep areas free of people and property in the event of a crash or a landing beyond the runway.

The Highlander originally began as the Elms boarding house in the late 1800s and was at the property long before the first flight and any need for runways. The modern facilities now lie at the end of the airport's Runway 6, with parts well within the runway protection zone.

Airport officials learned in 2010 that the Highlander owners were interested in selling. The airport and the FAA combined to cover the $10 million price to take over the 33-acre property and make plans to demolish the buildings closest to the runway.

The sale agreement included allowing the Highlander to continue operating until the end of the year, enabling it to fulfill existing reservations for weddings and meetings.

Airport deputy director J. Brian O'Neill said demolition on the property should begin this spring.

Although Saturday's deadline is a firm one, Davenport said travelers stranded by weather or other circumstances need not worry about their vehicles at the Highlander lot.

Davenport and a few other workers plan to be available to make sure the final customer is shuttled from the terminal door to car door, with the lots empty.

"We're definitely well-liked by the public. Everybody wanted to make sure they got their last time with us," he said.

"We're looking to close professionally," he said. "We take pride in what we do and want to make sure that's there until the end."

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