Sunday, June 15, 2014

Gainesville Regional (KGNV), Florida: Airport looks to the future: larger terminal, more development nearby

Gainesville Regional Airport officials have updated a master plan that sets the stage for developing property along the new entrance from Waldo Road and seeking money to expand the terminal in case efforts to land more flights, carriers and larger planes are successful.

The plan lays out nearly $50 million in possible capital improvement projects through 2020 — some of which have already been funded — and another $40 million in projects that are less likely to be funded but were included in case federal airport design standards change or airport business grows significantly.

The previous master plan dates back to 2006 and was updated to reflect new needs and new directions from the Federal Aviation Administration, airport CEO Allan Penksa said. The master plan report and airport layout designs were submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for review.

The Waldo Road entrance that opened earlier this year opens access to 40 acres that were rezoned business industrial in 2011 to pursue development opportunities.

Of 1,260 total acres of airport property, 346 are already developed. Land closest to the commercial terminal and general aviation areas — totaling 274 acres — is set aside for aeronautical uses such as air engineering, testing and manufacturing operations. Another 303 acres outside those areas are set aside for non-aeronautical uses. The remaining 336 acres are in flood zones, are conservation lands or are environmentally sensitive, such as a former city dump and a World War II practice bombing area. 

A real estate consultant reported that the best opportunities for development are from self-storage facilities, utilities such as a solar farm, and light industrial, followed by a hospitality use, a training/education center and a gas station/convenience store. 

 Airport and county officials previously envisioned pursuing development opportunities in tandem with plans to move the county fairgrounds from land south of the airport and redeveloping it as a business park. However, the Alachua County Commission has put those plans on hold over cost concerns about a new fairgrounds location.

Susan Davenport, vice president of economic development for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Council for Economic Outreach, said there are a host of industrial-type uses included in local priorities for economic development that would be a fit near the airport, such as logistics and manufacturing, similar to the types of companies in the existing Airport Industrial Park.

She said the changing fairgrounds plans do not affect economic development efforts.

"We have plenty of opportunities for places to do some new development," she said.

Brian Scarborough, chairman of the Gainesville-Alachua County Airport Authority, said the board's preference is for air-related businesses.

Penksa said the airport will work with city and county officials to plan for development.

"We're in this for the long haul, so a lot of these things won't happen overnight," Penksa said. "We would love to move the conversation forward in terms of creating some of the infrastructure improvements and land use changes that are necessary to attract people."

 Erik Bredfeldt, economic development and innovation director for the city of Gainesville, said he would help navigate property development through the permitting process and could foresee some types of companies seeking incentives from the City Commission.

Scarborough noted that economic development goes hand in hand with expanding flight options as more businesses and more jobs lead to fuller flights "and air carriers eventually respond."

Davenport said the reverse is also true, as flight access is important for economic development "especially in a growing tech hub like this one" as companies look to move researchers, investors and employees around.

"At times, companies will want a nonstop, and if we don't have it, we're eliminated before we even get in the game," Davenport said.

Penksa said most of the airport's flight expansion efforts are spent with the airport's current carriers to get direct flights to New York, Dallas or Washington, D.C.

He said carriers are reluctant to skip over their hubs without a strong case. In the case of a New York route — the airport's top priority — Gainesville doesn't have enough daily travelers going to all New York-area airports to fill a 737.

Luring new carriers also has become more of a challenge because of mergers such as the US Airways-American merger, Penksa said, while some carriers stick to larger cities and discount carriers go to vacation destinations.

Penksa said air service is a demographic issue included in Gainesville's pros and cons for relocating companies that also includes a great quality of life, good environment and an educated populace.

"A lot of those positives in quality of life come because we are the size that we are," he said. "For a community our size, we have good air service. In terms of having the level of direct flights or the level of frequency of connection hub flights for a larger city, that's something we've got to be somewhat realistic about." 

 Capital improvement projects in the master plan include expansions of the terminal building, including an addition to the concourse, room for an additional screening lane for the Transportation Security Administration, and baggage area and ticket area expansions, for an estimated cost of $10.6 million combined.

Penksa said funding for terminal expansions will depend on whether the FAA funds higher-priority projects through discretionary fund grants that would allow the airport to save up a portion of aviation fuel and passenger ticket taxes — averaging about $1.6 million per year — for the terminal.

"We know we're cramped now in our terminal, and the air traffic flow has changed to where we're getting larger aircraft," he said. "If a Boeing 717 and a regional jet or charter are leaving at the same time, we have some space issues."

Some projects in the master plan are already funded, including the ongoing taxiway pavement and lighting rehab work, and the general aviation terminal renovations expected to begin this summer. Next fiscal year, starting in October, a new toll booth and self-pay lanes will be built and the entrance road off Northeast 39th Avenue will be resurfaced.

The airport also is seeking to move and replace its fire station and air traffic control tower buildings.

A new tower, estimated at $4 million, would be built near the current one, which was built in 1973. It would be taller — more than 70 feet compared to 50 feet — to give it a view of the possible future extension of the northern runway, Penksa said. 

A new Air Rescue and Fire Station would be closer to the southern commercial runway, providing faster response time, and it would have more room for the larger trucks required to service larger aircraft, Penksa said. 

 It also would open up the current fire station location in the general aviation area for a future hangar, he said.

The tower and fire station projects are not yet approved for funding but likely will be, Penksa said.

Projects must be included in the master plan to compete for FAA grants, with a priority on projects related to safety, security and addressing air travel delays. Most are to rehab the existing infrastructure, such as runways.

The FAA would fund about 60 percent of the capital improvement projects, with the Florida Department of Transportation and the airport splitting the remaining costs.


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