Columbia Looks for Ways to Fund Airport Expansion

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COLUMBIA - Plans for expanding Columbia Regional Airport are starting to take off after a recent purchase by the city, but many Columbia residents are still unsure how the city will fund the multi-million dollar plan. City Manager Mike Matthes said the money will come from a mix of federal and city funds. 

Last week the city hired a consultant for around $30,000 who will advise the city on the project. The money for the consultant came from an airport savings fund that is paid for by airport revenue. 

"We hold back reserves, an airport savings account...we also get revenue from every ticket sold," Matthes said. 

The consultant will advise the city on how much the project will cost and what renovations need to be done. The consultant will also create images on what the renovated airport should look like. 

The city looks to get grant money from the government in order to pay for the expansion, but does not know where that money will come from yet. 

"We're not going to be picky, but the FAA seems like an appropriate source. They've built a lot of terminals around the country," Matthes said. 

As for local funding for the renovations, Matthes said the leading option is an increased lodging tax. The lodging tax applies to hotels, and Matthes said Columbia's lodging tax is less than what most other Missouri cities enact.

"Right now there is no money to do (renovations) so we will have to increase something. Our lodging tax is significantly lower than Jefferson City and Kansas City and many other cities," Matthes said. 

Opponents of the lodging tax said an increase in hotel prices will hurt travel, not help it. 

Matthes said the city has talked to every major airport about adding more flights, including Frontier airline who departed Columbia for the last time last month. Matthes said Frontier's Denver flight is a very attractive option for Columbia. 

There is currently no timetable for the airport's expansion.