Gulfport-Biloxi's Revival

Devastated by Katrina, airport teams with casinos, community to rebuild and grow.

GULFPORT, MS — Bruce Frallic, A.A.E., executive director of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, relates that when his community woke up to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, people looked around, assessed the situation, and began picking things up. Today, much of the evidence of the destruction is gone as the community, the casinos, and the airport have orchestrated a phenomenal turnaround. It is certainly the case at the airport, which saw much of its infrastructure destroyed, including its terminal and rental car facility — most of which has been rebuilt. The focus is again on air service, which is ahead of pre-Katrina numbers and faring much better in the current economic climate than most U.S. airports, particularly those of comparable size. In fact, they set a record in 2008. As Frallic says, “This is a different market.”

Recalls Frallic, “The storm was just devastating to us here. We were in the middle of a terminal expansion; we lost about a year and a half construction time because of the shortage of labor and materials. Prices went through the ceiling.

“We sustained about $14 million in damage to the terminal — the existing building. We had another $6 million in damage to the construction that was underway. So, we took a real lick here at the terminal.”

The terminal that was destroyed encompassed some 92,000 square feet and the $50 million expansion begun in 1994 was going to grow the complex to just over 171,500 square feet, which is what the new terminal is today. It has six jet gates, with the potential to utilize two more walk-down gates, planned by 2010.

Says Frallic, “It’s not a Taj Mahal; it’s a very functional building. What we did was add quite a bit of depth to the building; that’s where we were having problems.”

The airport also completely lost its rental car facility. “A tornado wadded it up in a ball and threw it in a ditch. So, we have a new facility there, in another location and slightly off-airport, though it’s on our property,” explains Frallic.

Also lost to the hurricane was the airport’s facility for cargo, particularly international — a major focus for growth at Gulfport-Biloxi. A 40,000-square foot replacement complex was recently completed, with a 20,000-square foot area for perishables. Gulf Coast International Cargo is the primary tenant.

The other major area impacted by Katrina was general aviation. The airport lost all of its GA hangar areas; however, according to Frallic, the airport had been trying to relocate GA for some 15 years, particularly after 9/11, due to its proximity to the military on the airfield.

“We worked out a deal with FAA; instead of rebuilding the physical buildings, they would help us financially to build the ramps and taxiways we needed in the alternate area of the airport; the private sector is investing in the buildings,” explains Frallic.

“We put in about $46 million in concrete – taxiways and aprons – the private sector is in the process of investing about $30 million in hangars and facilities. We have Million Air and still have Atlantic Aviation. Million Air’s construction will start in the first quarter and hopefully be finished by August.”

Atlantic Aviation’s lease expires in January 2010, according to Frallic, and the fixed base operator has indicated it will not seek a lease renewal.

The role of the casinos
Regarding air service, Frallic relates that the airport is primarily impacted by three forces: leisure travel (golf, fishing, etc.); the military; and the local casinos, which were totally wiped out by Katrina. The impact of the casinos, he says, is huge.

“We had 13 casinos up and running before the storm; for a period of about a year, we had nothing,” he explains. “Then legislation was passed and everybody began to reconstruct during that year. By the end of the first year after Katrina we had several up and running, and they were permitted to rebuild within 800 feet of the water site, so they really had landside facilities that they moved into.

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