Bemidji Regional Airport's planned $8 million terminal renovation and expansion project can be accelerated because of unspent federal grant monies.
Airport Authority members spent a few minutes before their regular meeting Wednesday evening to look at potential artist's rendering of the new terminal and inspect flooring materials.
The three-phase project will now be done as a single phase, with groundbreaking set for early May, Airport Authority Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen said. Additional parking still remains as a separate, to be done later, project.
Open houses Tuesday and Wednesday with construction trades drew nearly 60 people he said. "We want to make them aware of the project."
But Airport Authority member Joe Vene, a Beltrami County commissioner, said the authority must do more to be transparent and above board with the project, which he alleged many people know nothing about.
"We need full disclosure for good public policy," Vene said. The Beltrami County Board will need to know more about the project, as well as the public. And, he assumes, so will the city of Bemidji.
"I don't want to be seen as an obstructionist but that we go through all the steps for a successful outcome," Vene said. People may wonder if air fares will increase because of the new construction, or wonder why two buildings will be built.
"I just want to walk down the street and not have to face someone with a tight jaw or a furrowed brow," he said.
Airport Authority member Ron Johnson, a Bemidji City Council member, said the former Airport Commission had been talking about airport terminal upgrades for five years.
"Ultimately the decision rests with this board," Airport Authority Chairman Marshall Froyd said. The former Airport Commission became a free-standing authority in January, even though its board includes two county commissioners and two city councilors. It sets its own tax levy, which property owners will see starting next year.
Vene passed out a handout that stated what he thought needs to be provided yet to the public and city and county boards:
- Narrative description of the full project and justifications for pursuing the project.
- Complete project budget spreadsheet for both hard and soft costs.
- Full disclosure of all revenue sources and uses intended for the project.
- Copies of any and all contracts with engineers and architects, and possible legal review.
- Analysis of impact of expansion on future operating budgets and multi-year capital improvement plans.
- Project timeline for all steps and decision points.
Van Leeuwen gave authority members a timeline on Wednesday. It calls for construction documents to be prepared starting in November and bids to be opened March 23.
Construction would start in early may and be done in September 2011.
There won't be two buildings, he said, but the current terminal will be renovated and expanded to handle the new CRJ jets expected to become the standard at Bemidji Regional Airport.
Expected to cost about $8 million, the project will see about $6 million in federal funds through the expedited funding request by the federal government with its unspent airport monies. Van Leeuwen said it's good to move the project up, as it would now require only 5 percent in matching funds while in the next funding cycle, that will move up to 10 percent.
Funds used to match will come from passenger boarding fee charges -- about $72,000 a year -- and the project won't affect fares, he said.
"We aren't seeking funding through the city or the county," Froyd said. "The airport master plan called for this (serious terminal upgrades) five years ago."
Two public hearings on the project have been set, Van Leeuwen said -- 6-8 p.m. Nov. 17 and 9-11 a.m. Nov. 18.
"We'll know more about costs by the end of the month," he added, as consultants begin to cost out what now has just been schematics.
Delta will continue with three daily roundtrip flights between Bemidji and the Twin Cities, Van Leeuwen said, while it is expected to drop Brainerd to two flights daily and may even end flights from St. Cloud because of its proximity to Minneapolis-St. Paul International.
"For the third month in a row, enplanements were up," he said of figures when compared to last year. "We're the only airport to do that." There are nine commercial airports in Minnesota.
Some of the increased travel is from pipeline families on Fridays and Mondays, Van Leeuwen said, but basically it's from business travel on a consistent basis.