Jun. 19--When developers, politicians and business executives take a private flight to Myrtle Beach, their initial perception is of an outdated, dysfunctional terminal, according to Horry County officials and airport patrons.
The county's general aviation division has been doing business for the past decade out of a building designed for the military in the 1950s, and plans now are in the works for a new $4 million terminal.
The project is separate from the ongoing and politically controversial effort to expand the commercial terminal on the opposite side of Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Surfside Beach pilot Gregg Thompson flies a private jet out of the Myrtle Beach airport and deals with the lackluster terminal a couple times each week.
He said the facility is "embarrassing" and should be replaced.
"From my perspective, first impressions mean a lot, and this place is a dump. People fly in on $20 million airplanes for the first time, and this is what they get," Thompson said.
The general aviation side of the airport does a large portion of the airport's business. It has accounted for 62 percent of takeoffs and landings at Myrtle Beach International since 2001, said Walt Whittier, property manager for the airport.
Vice President Dick Cheney and developers of the nearby Withers Preserve are among those who have used the general aviation facility.
But the 10,000-square-foot terminal at the center of the county's general aviation business is a relic of the airport's former days as a military base and was designed with many other functions in mind, Whittier said.
"I think the biggest problem is it's functionally obsolete. The Air Force designed it for a particular purpose, and we are using it for another purpose," he said.
The new terminal would be designed to fit the current uses as a gateway for private passengers and a provider of fuel and other services to businesses there, such as AvCraft and the global shipping company DHL.
A portion of county money -- $200,000 -- will be used for the estimated $4 million it will take to design and build a new terminal, which will have similar 10,000 to 12,000 feet of floor space, according to the county.
The state may contribute $2 million, which must be approved by the General Assembly, which reconvenes today. The other $2 million in state funding is in the General Assembly's proposed budget for the coming year but will remain up in the air until lawmakers finalize a spending plan.
The legislature must approve the funding before the project can move forward.
The state Division of Aeronautics, a division of the state Department of Commerce, is considering a $1 million contribution to the project.
Under state rules, the division could contribute up to 50 percent of the total terminal cost but has not yet officially agreed to the funding, said Mike O'Donnell, executive director of the division.
The Myrtle Beach Air Base Redevelopment Authority agreed Wednesday to contribute the remaining $800,000 needed for the project.
"The general aviation terminal has become a real necessity due to the mass of general aviation airplanes that come in here," said Buddy Styers, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority. "We are getting a tremendous number of them."
Use of the general aviation facilities is likely to increase as the former air base is developed with hundreds of new homes and businesses, Styers said.
The county was considering a renovation of the existing terminal, but the Division of Aeronautics recommended the new facility, O'Donnell said.
A division engineer found that -- because the building was old and the airport was receiving a tremendous amount of business -- the best option was an entirely new terminal, O'Donnell said.
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An FAA letter to the county Monday warned it may need to recoup "some or all of the federal funds expended on this project" if the county deems the terminal a dead issue.