Next year, the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport will mark 50 years since opening, but city and business leaders from across the area have only recently begun to explore what kind of airport Northern Colorado has, what it should be and how it can help shape the region.
And the conversation may never have been sparked without Allegiant Air’s abrupt decision to end service at the airport one year ago.
“It opens up the conversation,” airport director Jason Licon said. “The cities are looking at evaluating what their vision is for the airport.”
An airport area economic development strategy was included early this year as a goal for the Loveland City Council in 2013, but because interest stretches beyond Loveland, the city of Fort Collins is now a partner.
A group that will research and provide guidance to the two cities began meeting in September and includes about a dozen business and community leaders and is led by Loveland Economic Development Director Betsey Hale and Loveland Public Works Director Keith Reester. Over the course of several informational meetings, they’ve brought in economic development staff from neighboring municipalities, including Fort Collins and Windsor.
“The airport has been out in that area for a long time,” Loveland Economic Development Director Betsey Hale said. “I think it might be time to make the airport an economic development priority in Northern Colorado.”
The key word in the strategy that’s being developed, Loveland City Manager Bill Cahill said, is “area.” The airport area has been defined up to County Road 30 to the north, Boyd Lake Avenue and the Southern Pacific Railroad to the west, east of Interstate 25 to County Road 5 to the south, Crossroads Boulevard, abutting but not including Centerra.
“What happens at the airport is going to drive what’s around it,” Cahill said.
Currently, what happens at the airport amounts to $129 million a year in derived economic activities, according to a recently released statewide study conducted by the Colorado Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics. The figure includes payroll, employment and estimates of visitor spending and the re-circulation of spending.
“Airports are an important asset to the community and not a lot of folks realize how it might impact them, directly or indirectly,” Licon said.
Most people think of airports in terms of commercial travel. But while it’s true that Allegiant’s departure took a significant financial hit on the airport, with one-third of operating revenue lost and the annual contributions from the two governing agencies doubled — $177,500 for 2013 and 2014 — Licon said that impact on the region remains significant.
“Something people don’t fully understand is that our action level has increased since Allegiant left,” Licon said.
There are still commercial flights — albeit not scheduled service that results in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration — and the airport also serves as a vital hub for corporate travel as well as medical transportation, flight instruction and more.
“That’s just part of what we do,” Licon said of commercial service. “There’s not one focus that we’re looking at, but there is a lot of focus into getting a carrier again.”
As the airport continues to market itself, one of the items that will likely be addressed in an economic development strategy is a former business model that relied on the commercial air carrier.
Crafting a Vision
Though the team working on the airport economic development strategy is still in the infancy stages, Hale is positive about the direction the group will provide to the airport steering committee and, eventually, to city councils for Fort Collins and Loveland.
“What we’ve been able to do is convene a very engaged group to put together a vision,” Hale said.
Infrastructure additions, cosmetic improvements and the governance structure of the airport have all been brought up in initial sessions. The group is tasked with looking long-term, and Cahill said that broader community involvement will also be sought as part of the strategy development.
“We want to look 10 to 20 years out and ask, ‘what can our airport be to serve the area best?'” Cahill said.