Airport needs sixth-penny tax to fund new terminal

Cheyenne Regional wants May voters to approve $8.5 million in funding.

By Cary Snyder

CHEYENNE - Cheyenne Regional Airport is beginning a push for its piece of the sixth-penny sales tax pie.

It hopes to generate an estimated $8.5 million in revenue to build a new terminal.

The current facility, built in 1960, is near capacity. It also has several obsolete features that limit Cheyenne's ability to attract another airline or significantly expand passenger service, manager David Haring said.

The airport is in the midst of a feasibility study to decide the best location for a new terminal.

One is where the tree-lined portion of Airport Parkway turns to the east because that area allows for expanded parking. Haring labeled that a necessity if the airport ever hopes to attract another airline.

The existing parking lot allows for convenient access to the terminal, but Haring said its closeness can violate Federal Aviation Administration standards in certain circumstances.

For example, when the FAA heightens the terror threat level across the country, airports are sometimes required to prohibit vehicles from parking within several hundred feet of a terminal. In Cheyenne's case, that could mean closing down most of its available parking.

"The parking is what's really, really important in this project," Haring said.

Another option might be to build the proposed 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot building next to the existing terminal.

See AIRPORT, page A10

That facility is listed at 18,000 square feet, but Haring said its awkward split-level layout allows for only about 12,000 square feet of usable space.

There is no room for an additional ticket counter and office space. The heating system is also outdated, and the main portion of the building does not have air conditioning.

The current terminal also has only a small space for passengers to wait for flights after they pass through the security checkpoint.

If a flight is delayed or they have to use the restroom or want to buy something to eat, they have to leave the waiting area and then re-enter through the security checkpoint.

Haring says a selling point to elected officials and voters is that local tax dollars will only pick about half of the estimated $17 million price tag for the new terminal.

The airport can get federal funds to round out the project, but it does hinge on the sixth-penny, or specific purpose, sales tax.

"We honestly just don't have the ability to do this without the sales tax," he said.

Over the next several months, a five-member committee of elected officials from Albin, Pine Bluffs, Burns, Cheyenne and the Laramie County Board of Commissioners will decide what proposed projects will appear on the May sixth-penny ballot.

A new recreation center in Cheyenne at a cost of about $50 million to build and operate is among the items being considered. So is a new fairground at the county's Archer property east of Cheyenne.

The sixth-penny sales tax is expected to generate an estimated $75 million to $80 million over four years.

Current figures show the tax collects $1.6 million a month, but that is expected to grow to $1.7 million in the future. That would allow for more projects, Laramie County Commissioner Jeff Ketcham said.

All of the governmental entities have been notified of the airport's intention to ask for sixth-penny funding, and Ketcham anticipates other proposed projects will crop up in the coming months.

"I'm sure others may come out of the woodwork somewhere," he said.

If the proposal is put on the ballot and approved by voters in May, Haring said the airport likely would have to wait until most of the money is collected before moving forward with construction.