Consultants say Fremont Municipal Airport is an underrated economic driver for the community, and is poised for growth.
“The Fremont airport is a gem,” Rick Bryant of Airport Development Group told a small group gathered at the Municipal Building Thursday to hear an introductory presentation of a terminal area plan update that Bryant’s company is preparing for the city.
“When we first set foot on it last fall and we came up for the interview (with the city),” Bryant said, “our eyes got real wide, and we started to salivate, because we saw all sorts of potential.
“Economic impact is something that I stress a lot in our discussions, and it’s an important tool for the community to help explain how a quiet asset, like the airport, has a significant impact within the community,” he said.
“The most current figure I found was from 2003, which showed that this airport contributed $5.6 million a year to the local economy,” Bryant said, estimating that figure has since grown to $7 million-$10 million.
As Bryant and Airport Development Group planning project manager Steve Marshall reviewed one of four preliminary alternative visions the company has prepared for the airport, representatives of the airport and city government saw color-coded illustrations of potential construction and developments in time frames ranging from one year to 20 years. If that particular concept were actually implemented, its estimated cost would be around $4.2 million, with federal and state funds expected to cover a little more than half.
The drawing visualized replacing the terminal building, apron expansion, places for additional hangars, and automobile parking, among other things. It also took into account the impact the 23rd Street viaduct will have on the airport.
“What you see on that alternative is pretty close to a mirror of what has been laid on the (viaduct’s) preliminary design,” City Planner Rian Harkins said.
“We made sure they had that information, because we wanted them to be able to know what constraints that road was going to have on their work,” he said.
It’s likely, he said, that the viaduct will make automobile parking at the current terminal impractical, and possibly encroach upon the building itself.
The upcoming viaduct project, in fact, was one reason the city hired Airport Development Group last fall to conduct the study and prepare a plan, Marshall explained. A waiting list for hangars and the aged state of the terminal building were other factors, he said.
Dean S. Fajen of the architectural firm HGM Associates Inc., said he looked at the condition of the 1962 terminal.
“It’s kind of old and tired and a little bit rundown. It needs some maintenance work, but it has performed and served the community very well,” Fajen said.
Fajen listed poor insulation and windows that are not energy efficient, an outdated furnace, old lighting and handicap accessibility issues among the issues he saw.
“The lobby actually is pretty nice, but the office does not have a good view of the runway or the taxiway … the reception area is a little bit small,” he said.
“There’s one room that serves a multitude of functions. It’s a conference room, it’s a break room, it’s a flight planning area, I’m assuming it’s where people hang out if they need to, it’s a break room. It really would be nice to have spaces for those different things,” he said.
“It sure would be nice to have a sleeping room or a couple sleeping rooms where pilots could come in and spend the night, sleep, take a shower, get cleaned up, rather than maybe just kind of lounging out there in that lobby area, which is probably what they do right now,” he said.
Fajen said it’s “probably not cost effective” to refurbish the existing terminal.
“To do the things that we’ve talked about would probably at least require doubling the size of it. That wouldn’t really work very well with the type of structure that’s there. In all probability, the most cost effective way would be to build a new terminal,” he said.
Concepts include options for keeping the terminal where it is or building a new one somewhere else on the grounds.
Airport officials indicated that visibility of the runway and taxiways from the terminal should be a focus.
Other issues brought up by airport personnel included sizes and locations of hangars in the concept, visibility by pilots of the terminal location and the future of “cross wind” runway 1-19, which would be closed and converted into a taxiway, according to the drawing.
“This is essentially a puzzle, where do the pieces fit most properly,” Marshall said, explaining that the goal is to “build a consensus” before the next meeting, which could be in March in front of the city council.
Some developments, such as apron expansion, could be eligible for Federal Aviation Administration funds, Marshall said, emphasizing that “eligible does not mean funded.” Those funds are doled out on a competitive basis, and there are usually strings attached, he explained.
Consultants agreed that the prospect of attracting more and bigger air traffic appears promising, particularly with Fremont’s proximity to Omaha, and with the limitations and possibility of closure at other area airports.
“It will happen sooner than you think,” Bryant said.