Columbia Regional Airport to host open house on possible improvements

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COLUMBIA - Columbia was scheduled to host an open house meeting on Tuesday to gather public input on possible improvements to Columbia Regional Airport

The city will provide an update on the Terminal Area Master Plan to those interested with the help of an engineering firm hired to consult on the project.

"The meeting Tuesday evening will be presented by Parsons Brinckerhoff, and they're going to come up with 3 or 4 or 5  locations of the possible movement of the terminal building as well as the renovation of the current facility," said Airport Board Chairman Greg Cecil. "So what they're looking for is public input. They're also going to talk about FAA projections and where we think we will be in terms of air service in the coming years and what the numbers will look like."

Cecil said funding for the possible improvements could come from a variety of sources.

"We're hoping to find some federal funds, but those are really hard to come by these days," Cecil said. "So one of the sources of revenue that's been kicked around a lot has been the occupancy tax on hotels and motels in the Columbia area. That potentially would be the biggest source of revenue."

Cecil said a possible occupancy tax increase would not be very large.

"Ours, we're looking at possibly a 1 percent increase, which is not going to be huge amount," Cecil said. "In some communities it's as high as ten percent. We want to remain competitive, but that's a possibility of a source of revenue for the terminal."

As for a timetable on improvements getting started, Cecil said it's all about the process.

"We're hoping to have something by the fall for sure, but this is a phased process. They gather a bunch of data, analyze it, then they come back to us and ask for more input, so right now we don't know exactly what the terminal will look like," Cecil said. "The next phase, they'll come back with some more concrete costs of what it's actually going to cost to build a new facility, and what it would cost to renovate the current facility, and also look at revenue streams."

As far as what kind of improvements could be coming, Cecil said there are some things that quickly come to mind.

"You know our goal is to get larger and larger planes, and right now that area is going to be kind of tight," Cecil said. "So a new terminal would enable us to have jet ways, which people really like, and those are great for inclement weather, so it makes for a much better experience."

Cecil said this time of year is one of the busiest for the airport, with college spring break on the horizon.

"It's pretty busy. A lot of students fly out of Columbia, some choose not to, and some don't even know they can fly out of Columbia," Cecil said. "But we do see an up tick with spring break but it really depends on where you're going."

Tuesday's open-house meeting was scheduled to be held at the Activities and Recreation Center in Columbia starting at 5:30 p.m.