Passengers departing from Yampa Valley Regional Airport this winter won't recognize the place. And they probably won't miss the circus tent they waited in to check baggage last winter.
County, city and airport officials dedicated a new 4,000-square-foot ticketing area Wednesday that will allow departing passengers to come in from the cold.
Airport Commission Chairman Marty Kolonel spoke to an audience of about 50 airport workers during Wednesday's dedication ceremony.
"We've heard you, and it's not for a lack of sympathy that it took us this long to complete this project," Kolonel said. "We want to thank you for serving our customers and doing it in difficult conditions. We think you've done a fantastic job."
Routt County officials were forced to act quickly last year when federal officials mandated that airports the size of YVRA accommodate screening facilities meant to detect traces of explosives on checked luggage. Faced with a tight schedule, the county rented tents where departing passengers waited while their bags were screened before entering the indoor check-in line.
The addition will cost more than $765,000 and represents the first of three phases planned to enlarge and modernize the airport east of Hayden.
A grant from the Federal Aviation Administration will pay for 90 percent of the construction. The first phase creates ample space for passengers queuing up to check luggage onto flights operated by one of five major airlines during ski season.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger cited the willingness of city and county government to create an airport commission as a key step in accomplishing airport terminal improvements.
"We collaborated with the city of Steamboat Springs," Monger said. "We felt an airport commission would be more hands-on in the operation of the airports."
In addition to overseeing YVRA, the commission also will guide the future of Steamboat Springs Airport.
Kolonel also praised the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. for its participation in launching a new era at the airport.
"This is only step one," Kolonel said. "From here, there are two more phases."
YVRA Manager Jim Parker said that when the second phase of the terminal expansion is complete, perhaps as soon as 2005, the newly expanded ticket area will move to the north and west in a new addition. Parking lot improvements also will be part of that phase.
The new ticket area will be adapted to allow a much-needed second baggage carousel in the third phase. Parker hopes that will include a vertical carousel designed to accommodate ski bags.
Phase three may not happen until 2007 or 2008, Parker said.
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