Airport expansion design worries appearance panel


May 22--The Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board was given its first chance Thursday to offer feedback on the proposed design of the Myrtle Beach International Airport terminal expansion project.

The verdict for many commission members was a need to connect the design of the present terminal with the design of the future terminal, find funding to install a parking structure and to increase pedestrian friendly options into the facility.

Even though the airport is county-owned and operated, it is located on city property, meaning the CAB, which must approve most new construction in Myrtle Beach, has final say on its appearance.

The board's overall reaction was much more favorable than the one it had to a previous attempt at the terminal expansion in 2007, which was denied because it would have built an additional building on the West side of the runways.

"I am a big proponent that the airport is our first opportunity to make a lasting impression on visitors," said board Chairman Larry Bragg. "We have to look at [the design] as a long-term solution. We've been told that things would only be a temporary fix, and we still have some of those things 30 years later. We need to do this right."

The terminal expansion is designed to handle additional traffic in and out of Myrtle Beach by increasing the number of gates from seven to 12. The design would increase the capacity for baggage claim, move the rental car space to a separate smaller building outside the terminal and provide more space for a welcome center. The new terminal also incorporates some environmental design that would reduce the airport's energy consumption.

The old terminal space, outside of the second floor gates, would be rented out to airport-friendly businesses, including the possibility of an airport shuttle or public transportation service, said Rick Ott, senior executive vice president of MB Kahn Construction.

Several board members said they were concerned that the design of the present terminal juxtaposed with the new design would be a problem.

"I'm very concerned about the blending of the present terminal and the new terminal. ... It just doesn't flow for me," said board member Brown Bethune. "I would want to know what your plans are to update the present terminal to make the design more integrated."

Ott said the group was treating renovations of the current facility, which will likely be costly, as a separate project, but they do plan to return with renovation options.

Board member Sandra Rutenberg called the new terminal a "lateral move" in terms of pedestrian rights.

"I had hoped the pedestrian crossover would not be this similar to the pedestrian way in the present terminal. Is there any way in planning for the future that you could look into a pedestrian-activated stoplight or something of that sort?" she asked. "I think it would be very difficult for a family of four to maneuver across two lanes and a loading lane."

Ott answered most of the board's questions and agreed to look into several options to address them before the board's June meeting, but at least one issue came down to a need for more funds.

"I think a parking structure would be a great thing for this community and for this airport as it continues to grow, but as it stands we don't have the funding," he said. "We are looking into several different ways to obtain that additional funding including having a discussion with the rental car companies to see if they would be willing to fund a portion."

The board will offer further comments and conditions to be met in order to obtain final approval at its next meeting.

The Horry County Department of Airports is scheduled to announce its final choice for an architect for the expansion project today. The choice of an architect will not influence the design of the building, which is guided by federal aviation and community standards.

Contact CLAUDIA LAUER at 626-0301.