Artist's animation of what the Jetport interior and exterior design would look like.

May 4, 2010

Jetport expansion back on city's radar

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

 

The Portland International Jetport is nearing the start of the largest expansion in its history.

The $75 million project would nearly double the size of the terminal and add more capacity for screening baggage and passengers.

If the City Council approves a borrowing plan next month, construction will start in April.

Airport fees and a federal grant would pay for the project. The target date for completion is February 2012.

Airport director Paul Bradbury said the expansion is needed to meet existing demand and attract new air service. Currently, there are not enough gates to support another airline, he said. The project would add three new gates.

The expansion also would allow the terminal to handle an anticipated increase in passengers, he said.

Funding would come from a $4.50 fee on every ticket. Passengers are already paying the fee, with the revenue going toward debt payments that will soon be retired.

Additional funding would come from rent paid by new vendors in the expanded terminal, and the federal Transportation Security Administration would provide $9.1 million for security upgrades.

The project was originally scheduled for completion last October. But the airport was forced to delay it in fall 2008 because the crisis in the nation's financial industry made it impossible to find a company that would insure the debt. The airport's original underwriter was Bear Stearns, a global investment bank and securities-trading brokerage that collapsed.

Councilor Dan Skolnik, chair of the building committee for the project, said he expects the council to support the plan because the airport is a critical component in attracting economic development and job creation to the region.

Bradbury said the jetport has benefited from recent changes in the industry that have caused some airports to lose their regional monopolies on cheap air fares.

The arrival of low-cost airlines such as JetBlue has helped the jetport pull business away from Boston's Logan Airport and Manchester Airport in New Hampshire, and Bradbury expects the trend will continue. Since the last terminal expansion in 1995, passenger volumes at the jetport have increased more than 50 percent.

The airport has done well during the recession compared with other airports in New England, Bradbury said. At Manchester Airport, for example, passenger traffic declined more than 14 percent in 2009.

In contrast, the increase in passenger volume at the jetport since summer will make up losses suffered in the first half of the year, leaving overall volume essentially flat for 2009, he said.

The project would increase the size of the terminal from 150,000 square feet to 280,000 square feet. In addition, 10,000 square feet of existing space would be renovated.

When completed, the terminal possibly would be the most energy-efficient in the nation, Skolnik said. It would have solar panels and a geothermic heating system.

Construction costs for the terminal are budgeted at $58 million.

In addition, jetport officials plan to spend $3.5 million for a new road system, $1.35 million for a new sky bridge connecting the terminal with the recently built five-story parking garage, and $3.3 million for a new explosion-detection system for outgoing baggage.

Currently, passengers have to check their baggage and then bring it to the explosion-detection system in the lobby. The new system would be integrated with the baggage system, reducing work for both passengers and security staff, Bradbury said.

The changes would free up security staff to help screen passengers, he said.

In addition, the number of passenger screening lanes would increase from four to eight, allowing lines to move faster. The airport currently lacks capacity to efficiently screen the large volume of passengers who arrive for flights early every morning.

Turner Construction, a national firm with an office in Boston, would be construction manager. Bradbury said local contractors would be able to bid on portions of the job, and he expects most of the 90 to 100 construction jobs would go to local people.

The airport is a department of the city, and the project can't go forward unless the City Council approves the bond issue. The project would not affect city taxpayers.

Bradbury will present the plan to the City Council at a workshop meeting at 5 p.m. today in the council chambers.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

 

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