Columbia Regional Airport Improvements Are Up in the Air

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COLUMBIA - Flights took off from Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday, and soon improvement to the airport will follow. The Columbia Regional Airport was built in the 1960's, but figuring out how to fund improvements is challenging.

In January the city council introduced a proposal that would raise the lodging tax from four percent to seven percent. The Columbia Hospitality Association (CHA) consists of 19 members who represent a majority of the city's 35 hotels, motels, and bed & breakfast operations. CHA recently issued an alternative that would increase the lodging tax by only one percent.  Currently, three-fourths of taxes collected by the lodging tax help fund the Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau and the remaining goes to the Tourism Development Fund which attracts tourists, companies, and other visitors.

Michael Kelly, general manager of Stoney Creek Inn said CHA members are excited about airport renovations, but do not feel the hotel industry should pay all of the burden. Stoney Creek is the second largest hotel in Columbia and is seeing a climb in occupancy, and Kelly said an increase in taxes could scare away customers.  The CHA said a full three percent increase would slow lodging, dining, shopping, and general tourism growth.

The airport currently offers three flights a day to Memphis. This summer, it will add a mid-day flight to Atlanta. The current flights hold 50 passengers and are usually at about 85 percent capacity, said airport manager Don Elliott.

The airport task force is currently working on figuring out needed improvements and working on a more concrete plan.  Greg Steinhoff, chair of the Airport Steering Committee, said they are hoping to have something ready for the ballot this November.