A sweeping proposal to renovate the Durango-La Plata County Airport was presented Tuesday to two of its frequent fliers, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Durango Mayor Dick White.
Kip Turner, director of aviation, said the favored plan involves building a new airport from scratch on a 100-acre lot on the other side of the runway. Its estimated cost comes in at $143 million.
The current terminal offers little to make sky voyages less torturous. Even specialty coffee is unavailable.
Turner says he is dogged by locals asking when, if ever, the airport would get a Starbucks or Durango Joe’s.
“I get that question the most, by far,” he said.
But living with a Spartan airport could change.
Up to 80 percent of the cost of a new terminal might be covered by assorted grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Colorado Department of Transportation, Turner said. That would leave the city of Durango and La Plata County to split the remaining cost, about $40 million.
Rehabbing the airport’s current terminal, Turner says, isn’t financially feasible because the lot is hemmed in by unforgiving topography, offering little room for growth.
“Anything we do to this building has a shelf-life,” he said.
Turner hopes the airport’s current quarters could be turned into office space.
Whether locals would vote to underwrite the airport expansion at the ballot box is a mystery, White said.
Given legal constraints on spending and taxing and the county’s sickly finances, because of the precipitous decline of tax revenues from natural gas and oil, White said building the airport likely would be impossible without voter approval.
The time frame still is taking shape.
Turner said the issue could go before voters in 2015. He expects construction to take 18 months.
White plans to meet with La Plata County commissioners next week to get the ball rolling.
The need for a better, bigger airport has become urgent, Turner said.
Right now, the airport has a $328 million economic impact on the local economy, according to a CDOT study, but it is built to handle a mere 100,000 passengers a year.
In 2013, it handled about 200,000.
Turner said the airport outgrowing its facilities is “a good kind of problem to have.”
Last year, Durango-La Plata County Airport and Denver International Airport were the only airports with increased traffic in the state.
Durango-La Plata County Airport is the fifth-busiest airport in Colorado, and Turner said it was poised to take fourth place.
While the airport’s traffic is growing, its infrastructure is woefully outdated.
According to industry standards – where airport features are graded on an A to F scale – the airport earns “Fs” on most features, including its inadequate baggage belt, Turner said.
Based on current passenger traffic, the airport should be a minimum of 82,100 square feet in size, according to the consulting firm’s study. But the airport is half that size at 41,500 square feet.
Any design should anticipate more passenger growth, Turner said.
“Anytime you build something today, you build it a little bit for tomorrow,” he said.
Tipton warned that passenger traffic projections could easily prove too conservative.
“You could have much greater growth if the economy picks up,” he said.