A request for $8.5 million in sixth-penny funds could go before voters in May.
By Cary Snyder
CHEYENNE - Convincing voters that building a new airport is not a viable option is the first step toward getting tax money for a new terminal, airport officials say.
They are seeking $8.5 million in sixth-penny, or specific purpose, sales tax funds to pay for half of the new facility. That request would appear on the ballot next May if it is approved for placement there by a panel of local officials.
Airport officials have two months to come up with a proposal in order for their project to have a chance of appearing on the May ballot.
Up to four options are being considered to replace the existing 18,000-square-foot terminal that was built in 1960.
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Officials at Denver International Airport looked at developing regional airports five years ago to help control the growth of the major hub.
A location in northern Colorado near the Wyoming border was considered, said David Haring, manager of Cheyenne Regional Airport.
The price tag: $500 million.
The amount was not feasible then, even with intergovernmental cooperation, Haring said. He added that the cost has undoubtedly ballooned with subsequent increases in construction-related expenses.
And DIA has since announced plans to issue $1.2 billion in bonds to cover a variety of projects over the next several years to handle its growth. That lessens the need for regional airports.
After getting county residents to recognize that the current airport will be around for the feasible future, Haring said the question then becomes how to best develop the existing facility.
He cautioned that a new terminal will not automatically attract another airline or lead to expanded options beyond the eight daily flights to Denver offered by Great Lakes Airlines.
"A new terminal will not guarantee you new air service. (But) an insufficient terminal can cause you to lose air service," Haring said after Wednesday's monthly meeting of the Cheyenne Regional Airport Board.
Cheyenne Councilman Tom Segrave, a member of the five-person sixth-penny sales tax committee, told the board that it has a drop-dead deadline of Dec. 14 to submit a proposal for a new terminal.
A feasibility study will recommend the best option for a proposed 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot terminal. But Haring said the most likely options are building near the current terminal or elsewhere on the property, particularly to be able to expand available parking for travelers.
"You can Band-Aid a building to death," he said. "But then you get down the road and is that still going to work when you don't have long-term parking options?"
He added he is optimistic a decision can be made by mid-December.
A new terminal is estimated to cost $17 million with feds picking up half of the cost. County Commissioner Jeff Ketcham called that the project's best talking point with voters.
"Your best selling point is that matching money, and I don't think a lot of people realize that," Ketcham told the airport board.
The county is expected to collect about $1.5 million a month in sixth-penny sales tax revenue, a schedule that would translate into five or six months in collections solely to fund a terminal.
Said Segrave, "Can you convince the public that a five-month collection is good for a 30-year building? I think you can."
Haring said the airport does have the option of taking out bonds to finance a new terminal.
But that would force the airport to raise the leasing rates it charges to tenants, which could mean those who do business on airport property may look elsewhere. Leases are a major source of the airport's revenue.
"You start jacking up fees too much and you could lose that," Haring said.