Construction for the first phase of improvements to Yampa Valley Regional Airport is slated to begin this week, after Routt County officials approve a bid Monday, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said. County officials are working to find solutions to a projected $3.4 million funding gap for the overall $17.8 million project.
The goal is to have the first phase completed before ski season arrives, YVRA Director Jim Parker said. That phase, which will cost $940,000, will allow a 4,300-square-foot expansion of the northeast side of the terminal for queuing, ticketing, baggage check and baggage screening. The expansion will replace the plastic tents that were used to accommodate baggage screening and passenger lines last winter.
"This is a much-needed improvement to the existing terminal building," Parker said. "The queuing area is certainly, right now, the most important. The tents were a good stopgap, but were a fairly costly option for us."
The tents were about $40,000 to rent through the winter, plus about $1,000 a month to heat, bringing the total cost to more than $70,000 -- "a money pit," Parker said. The new queuing area is designed to accommodate passengers on a peak Saturday, Parker said.
"Airports look deserted most of the time, and many look like they are over-designed," said Gary Ross, the architect designing the improvements. "But you arrive on a big weekend and you see they are not overdone. The goal is to try to reach an appropriate balance for maximum and minimum number of people."
After second and third phases are completed, the first phase will be converted to a second baggage claim area with an additional mechanized baggage-return belt.
Architectural firm Ross Partnerships Inc. of Aspen was selected to draw plans for the improvements about a year ago. The firm has worked on similar airport projects in the resort towns of Aspen and Telluride, and specializes in public buildings such as schools, universities and airports, Ross said.
Hayden's airport is similar to Aspen's because it serves a resort community, Ross said. But, they are different in the number of passengers they serve. Aspen's runway is shorter than Hayden's and cannot handle the larger planes that YVRA can.
"You have a strange occurrence (at YVRA), because you can fly large jets into a mountain resort," Ross said. "Most resort towns are restricted by the mountains."
The first phase addition will have a simple look and give the airport more of a "mountain feel," Ross said. The design includes gabled roofs, stone veneer, heavy timbers and visible wood beams. The main room will have higher ceilings than the rest of the airport and will have a 2-by-21-foot skylight.
"I've seen the elevations, and I'm happy with the design that has been proposed," Parker said. "What we want to see is all the elements blend to make a final product we can all be proud of."
The plan ties together all three phases to give the airport a uniform appearance, Ross said, although changes to the existing airport building will be minor in the first phase.
Major changes to the existing building will take place in the second and third phases, and will include a new ticketing wing to replace the one from the first phase, remodeled holding and baggage claim areas, a new jet apron and deicing pads, and road and parking-lot improvements.
The most important part of the entire project is the new ticketing lobby, because the current one cannot adequately handle departing passengers, especially on a busy day, Parker said.
The Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program is expected to fund most of the costs of the improvements.
The problem is a $3.4 million funding gap, in which $2.5 million needs to be raised locally -- $1.9 million for phase two and a $600,000 for phase three.
To meet this need, the YVRA Advisory Board met with a group of Routt County residents July 16 to discuss funding options.
Ideas suggested included revenue bonds, sales- or property-tax increases, or increased parking fees at the airport. The Routt County Board of Commissioners will further analyze funding options at its Monday meeting.
Parker and Sullivan said they did not have an opinion yet for which funding option is best. Neither do most Yampa Valley residents. Here is a summary look at each option:
A revenue bond is a bond issued by a municipality to finance a specific project and supported by revenues from that project. In this case, a revenue bond would be a loan obtained from the FAA, the federal government, a bank or Yampa Valley residents. The money would be repaid through revenue generated by the airport. If residents opt to pay for the project themselves through revenue bonds, they probably would be able to purchase the bonds in $1,000 to $5,000 increments, Sullivan said. The bonds would gain interest, but they are not tax-deductible.
Raising parking fees:
A loan would be obtained and would be paid back through revenue generated by increased parking fees. Raising the parking fees, which vary by the amount of time a vehicle is parked, would entail changing how the fees are collected. Now, the fees are collected by an honor system, in which motorists put a permit in their windshield and drop money in a lockbox when they leave. A gate system likely would be needed to ensure the raised fees are collected, Sullivan said, but several YVRA Advisory Board members said a gate would cost more and implementing a gate may discourage people from parking at the airport altogether.
If Routt County residents wish to fund the gap by increasing taxes, Sullivan said informing voters about the specifics of the project and how the money will be used will be the most important factor in gaining voter approval. Also, if a tax question were to be implemented on the ballots, it would not be on ballots until 2005, when phase two is scheduled to begin.
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