County commissioners opt for new Aspen airport terminal

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy of the Aspen-Pitkin County AirportA design for a new, 80-square-foot terminal at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport won favor Tuesday with Pitkin County commissioners. Underground parking with a grassy roof, surrounded by the looped road, remains under discussion.

ASPEN – A new Aspen airport terminal with a straightforward design and lower price tag, at least compared to some other options, won favor with Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioners directed a consulting team working on a master plan for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport to prepare a more detailed financial analysis for the terminal and a plan to phase its construction, but asked for more information on the options to provide parking for the facility.

A county-appointed advisory group recommended the terminal design favored by commissioners along with an underground parking structure. The parking would have a landscaped roof and vary from two to four floors deep, providing spaces for 1,300 vehicles.

The airport has 926 parking spaces currently, but a parking garage would consolidate various lots, including short- and long-term parking, rental-car needs and employee spaces and provide space for future parking demands.

The new terminal, shifted toward Aspen from the site of the existing building, would take up some space that currently is used for long-term parking. The terminal would be an 80,000-square-foot, two-story structure with eight boarding gates. The existing terminal is 45,017 square feet and is deficient in its mechanical, baggage and federally required security areas, according to airport officials.

In short, the building doesn’t function well, said Jim Elwood, aviation director.

“It’s impacting customer service. It’s impacting the employees’ ability to provide customer service,” he said.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield was most adamant about advancing not only the option for a new terminal but also a plan to rehabilitate the existing facility (the “reuse” option) and add a new concourse onto it.

“I have a hard time taking reuse off the table at this point,” agreed Commissioner Rob Ittner, asking consultants to analyze the customer impacts of building the new terminal versus modifying the existing one.

Hatfield said he’d like more thought given to building a new terminal but leaving other elements at the airport relatively intact as a first step.

Commissioners Rachel Richards and George Newman said they’re not interested in giving further consideration to putting money into the existing terminal, an option that costs more than building a new one, according to consultants.

“It doesn’t seem to make sense,” Newman said.

“I personally am willing to let that go now,” Richards agreed.

Richards asked for more information about how many existing parking spaces must be rebuilt because they would be lost to construction of a new terminal.

The plan for a new terminal is part of an overall master plan that will designate space for future airport improvements over the next 20 years, including commercial and general aviation functions. The master plan won’t include the detailed design of the buildings, though, and so far, commissioners have dealt in the footprints of the structures.

Construction of a new terminal and other facilities will be driven by need and the ability to finance projects, commissioners have been told.

The ballpark estimate for the new terminal is $98.4 million with surface parking, some of which would probably have to go off-site, or $121.8 million with the parking structure. The numbers were generated for comparison purposes only; detailed financial estimates have yet to be developed.

The airport is self-supported, generating revenues to fund its operations. Construction of a new terminal and parking garage could use a combination of revenue bonds, through which the airport borrows money based on future revenues, and federal and state grants that come from aviation-related fees, Elwood said. Local tax dollars wouldn’t be part of the financing scheme, he said.

Plans for a terminal and parking are meant to meet projected needs in 2017, when 250,452 people are expected to board a commercial aircraft in Aspen. Commercial enplanements last year totaled 223,078.

Richards wondered if planning for 2017 is short-sighted, since construction could just be getting started by then.

“I don’t want to be knocking down walls four years after they went up,” she said.

The building plan includes room for expansion, commissioners were told.