Contract Dispute Snags Myrtle Beach Terminal Plan

Plans for a new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport hit another stumbling block Tuesday when members of Horry County Council learned that the firm leading the project's design has requested more money.

HNTB, a Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural-consulting firm, signed the $7.895 million contract in April 2004.

HNTB informed the county they would not be able to complete their work for that amount and has requested additional fees, Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said Tuesday. She declined to say how much more the firm was seeking.

A spokeswoman for HNTB referred all questions to county airport officials.

Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said the amount is significant, though she too declined to release details.

"From my perspective, I want to see them fulfill the agreement they've agreed to," Gilland said. "We didn't force anybody to sign up. They're big boys."

If HNTB walks away, it would present a significant hurdle, said one national aviation analyst.

"I don't think it would stop it, but it would be a monkey wrench," said Mike Boyd, president of The Boyd Group, in Evergreen, Colo.

Only a handful of council members were present Tuesday at the briefing and Gilland said the matter would be discussed Oct. 25 at the council's next meeting.

Costs for the planned airport terminal, which at one time rose to $253 million, were scaled back in July, when County Council approved a $200 million version of the project. The budget cuts eliminated a second taxiway and an international passenger-processing facility, disappointing area tourism officials and Myrtle Beach-based Hooters Air, which has been considering a charter route between Myrtle Beach and London.

The new, 14-gate terminal would be constructed opposite the runway from the current terminal. It is scheduled for completion in 2008.

Passenger traffic at Myrtle Beach International Airport is expected to grow by at least 7 percent this year, and the airport is on track to surpass its record year in 2000, when it boarded more than 792,529 passengers.

HNTB was to gather estimates for completion of 65 percent of the new terminal project, an industry measure used to represent the bulk of a project's cost. HNTB was to then present the estimates to the project's builder, Skanska USA Building Inc., which would then present Horry County with a maximum guaranteed price for completion.

"As far as I know and council knows, we're proceeding at 65 percent to get that maximum guaranteed price," said Horry County Councilman Mark Lazarus. "All we can do is discuss it at the next council meeting."

Financing for the project could get dicey, depending on what the reasons are for HNTB's request, aviation analyst Boyd said.

"Structural steel is getting expensive and that could be the deal. I wouldn't jump to the immediate conclusion that you got a bad bid," Boyd said. "You're not dealing with Fred's Construction Company. HNTB has been around. They have a national reputation. This is not a company that would need to play games with Myrtle Beach to survive."

Horry County Councilman Howard Barnard said HNTB signed a contract and they need to execute it.

"We expect them to execute it as written," Barnard said.

Councilman Paul Prince voted against the new terminal project in its initial planning stages. "I know they've had a lot of struggling since day one," Prince said.

The terminal project has jumped small, medium and large hurdles since it began, said Horry County Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf.

"If there's a strong enough will to get the airport built, we will find a way," Schwartzkopf said. "If it gets to the point where it is cost prohibitive, then we will go to Plan B and I have no idea what Plan B is."

Myrtle Beach Sun News

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