Aspen airport master plan financially ‘feasible’ |

Aspen airport master plan financially ‘feasible’

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Future improvements at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, pegged at an estimated cost of $171.3 million, are financially feasible without spending local taxpayer dollars.

That, in essence, is the conclusion of a financial analysis to be presented in detail to county commissioners Tuesday as part of an ongoing review of an airport master-plan update. The discussion is scheduled at 3:15 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen.

The master plan and financial analysis also will be the focus of a public open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Pitkin County Library.

Though the master plan sets forth a 20-year vision for the airport property, the financial analysis puts improvements, including a new terminal and parking facilities and the addition of a second fixed-base operator, into a timeline that concludes in 2018.

Adoption of the master plan doesn’t commit the county to development of any of the facilities, aviation director Jim Elwood has stressed. Nor does adoption of the plan formalize the timeline, he said Friday.

But for planning purposes, a five-year process of developing a new terminal is outlined, starting in 2014 with the rebuilding of the existing commercial ramp outside the terminal – something that has to be done whether a new terminal is built or not, Elwood said.

In all, $120.8 million is allocated to construction of a new terminal building, associated roads and parking, including a 750-space underground parking garage to start. The sum also includes $23.5 million for expansion of the parking garage to 1,300 spaces, though that piece is considered a long-term possibility.

The master plan sets aside space for an 80,000-square-foot, two-story terminal, but recent discussions suggest something smaller will be proposed, with room to expand later.

The $171.3 million total also includes development on the west side of the runway, including a new fixed-base operation, hangar space and a taxiway parallel to the runway. Some of the improvements will involve outside investment, according to a cash-flow summary that is part of the analysis.

Other pieces of the financing scheme for the potential future developments include revenues generated by the airport, including additional revenue from a second fixed-base operator, federal and state grants and a $50 million revenue bond that would be repaid with airport revenues.

“None of the financial plan suggests any local tax burden on the citizens – zero,” Elwood said.

All of the costs and revenues are projections based on certain assumptions, but the goal is to determine whether the components of the master plan are reasonable from a financial standpoint, he said.

“In the eyes of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), what they want to see is if the concepts in the master plan are reasonable – can they be reasonably accomplished,” Elwood said.

In fact, laying out a “practical scenario” to match likely funding with anticipated expenditures is a necessary component of the overall master plan, he said.

If funding isn’t available as projects come forward, the developments would be either scaled back or delayed, Elwood said.

“The key from the community’s standpoint is if the money isn’t generated, you don’t do that improvement,” he said.

The financial plan also includes a “sensitivity analysis” to confirm that proposed facilities could be financed even if the airport sees a downturn in revenue – a 4 percent annual drop in commercial passenger traffic for four years and associated declines in revenue, followed by modest growth afterward.

“We needed to look at it from the perspective of a significant what-if,” Elwood said. “The numbers still work.”

The county’s Financial Advisory Board met with airport staff, the county’s finance staff and the consulting team for the master plan to review the financial analysis last month, according to Elwood. Members of the Financial Advisory Board are expected to attend Tuesday’s session.

In addition to Monday’s public open house, the master plan advisory committee – a group that includes representatives with an interest in the airport – will review the numbers Tuesday morning.

Based on commissioner input Tuesday afternoon, the master plan may be submitted for formal review by the county Planning and Zoning Commission with the expectation that commissioners will take up the final version of the plan in August. The entire plan requires county review and approval, while the Federal Aviation Administration must review and approve the layout plan for future airport facilities.

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