Slumping Baton Rouge airport IDs No. 1 priority as master planning is set to begin
August 12, 2015
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  • The Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport has seen several non-aviation businesses, including a Coca-Cola bottling plant and a car dealership, sprout up on its land over the past several years.

    Airport leaders now want to ensure that businesses leasing the land surrounding the airport will continue to prosper and try to attract more economic drivers to the area over the next decade. Those results would mean that the state’s second-largest airport — which has seen decreasing flights over recent years — can continue to operate without asking for tax dollars, they say.

    Business developments are at the top of airport officials’ lists of what needs to be monitored and improved as the airport now enters a new master planning period. The Metro Council will vote this week on a $922,171 proposal for airport consulting firm Kutchins and Groh to create an updated master plan.

    The Federal Aviation Administration will pay 90 percent of the master plan’s cost and the state Department of Transportation and Development will cover the remaining 10 percent.

    Baton Rouge airport officials call the hub of new nearby businesses an “aviation business park.” Among its tenants are Coca-Cola Bottling Company, All Star Chevrolet North on Plank Road, and ABC Auction Broadcasting LLC on Blount Road.

    “We’ve got to make sure we’re getting the highest and best use for the property that we have,” said Metro Councilman and Airport Commissioner Trae Welch. “We can say, ‘this is what we envision this land use to be, this is what will help your business be able to be a part of these other businesses.’ ”

    There are 640 undeveloped acres on the north side of the airport that will be the target of the study, Welch said. He is particularly interested in any economic development that brings significant jobs to the area, like manufacturing.

    Airport Marketing and Air Service Development Manager Jim Caldwell said finding businesses to lease airport land is a critical way that the airport brings in money. As many airports across the nation see volatility with airlines and how many flights they will offer, Caldwell said scouting businesses to sign long-term leases is a way to diversify revenue.

    As an indicator of how much has changed since the airport’s last master plan in 2007, the old plan did not make any business-related recommendations. Instead, it focused on the airport improving many facilities with construction projects.

    The airport has followed through on all seven of the recommendations, although it modified a few.

    The changes most visible to customers were expanding security check-in space and adding more public parking. The airport enlarged its rotunda near the security check-in, and built a rental car parking garage to free up spaces rental cars were occupying in the public parking garage.

    The airport also made several behind-the-scenes changes that were recommended in the 2007 master plan. They included extending a runway, building more air cargo facilities, acquiring property for future expansions, constructing more general aviation hangars and relocating a runway threshold.

    Caldwell said the new master plan will take into account more than just the airport’s business ventures. Welch said the airport already prides itself on being user-friendly, but it can always find more ways to make passengers feel like the airport is advocating on their behalf.

    “It’s a big economic engine in the community, it has a significant economic impact for the region,” Caldwell said.