County on Board for New Terminal at San Joaquin

STOCKTON -- Plans for San Joaquin County's regional airport to accommodate international flights took another step toward getting off the ground Tuesday.

The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $3 million loan, as well as plans and specifications for modifying the existing terminal. The 16,000-square-foot inspection station is to be built just south of the terminal.

The project is now following an aggressive schedule, Airport Director Barry Rondinella told the board Tuesday, as the estimated $5.4 million project will be opened to bidders March 1.

Greg Mantz, an architect with Carter-Burgess, the firm hired to design the new terminal, said that as many as 10 to 12 developers have expressed interest in the project.

Aeromexico wants to fly as many as six flights per week between San Joaquin County and Guadalajara, Mexico -- reaffirming their commitment with a letter sent to Rondinella on Monday.

The airline has, in Rondinella's words, "strongly requested" having the customs facility completed by the end of October in hopes of starting service before the holidays.

The cash for the loan will come out of county reservefunding, essentially money set aside for a rainy day. Rondinella said the money would be expected to be paid back by a series of entitlement grants from the Federal Aviation Administration doled out between 2008 and 2010.

Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, whose area covers most of south San Joaquin County, expressed concerns that the project's cost could grow once bids come in at the end of March.

Rondinella assured him the board would once again be asked to decide on costs.

"You guys will get another bite at the apple," he said.

Rondinella presented the council with an 2004 economical impact analysis from the city of Fresno, which said that a similar addition of international flights injected $14 million into their local economy in its first year due to hotel stays, restaurant use and transportation costs.

"I think it will far exceed those numbers; it's a good investment," said Rondinella, adding that the Stockton service would provide one more flight than Fresno.

Ornellas also expressed doubts about those findings, questioning how much dining and shopping is going to be done when passengers arrive in the wee hours of the morning.

Spending estimates on the projects have jumped during the past year.

In Feb. 2006, the board reviewed preliminary designs for an inspection station at a cost of about $2 million. The station was to be built onto an existing terminal at the airport.

Those plans were denied by the

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol because plans did not provide enough room for baggage inspection or staging. In fact, they would have needed about 4,155 more square feet, Rondinella said.

Rondinella told the supervisors that Customs and Border Patrol is now on board with the design and would be "ready to sign right now" on its implementation.

The airport, which is located between Manteca and Stockton, has been a landing port for many Bay Area corporate jets and several cargo firms -- including the United Parcel Services heavy cargo division.

In mid-2006, Allegiant Air began providing domestic passenger service from San Joaquin County to Las Vegas. The company has expressed interest in flying to Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and other Mexican tourist destinations, Rondinella said.