Parking Garage, 3 New Gates Approved at Palm Beach Airport

Aug. 17--The air traffic slump following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is history and passenger traffic is soaring, prompting managers at Palm Beach International Airport to dust off plans for expanded parking and new gates.

Passenger volume has been breaking records every month for the past year, except for the hurricane-caused dip in September 2004. By the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, airport managers expect to hit 7 million passengers, an increase of 9 percent from the year earlier.

All of those people need a place to park and the planes moving them in and out need a place to park.

Coming first is a $55 million parking garage, approved Tuesday by the County Commission. Airport Director Bruce Pelly said the 3,200-space garage was planned before the post-Sept. 11 air-travel falloff.

The spaces are now needed, he said. Passenger growth has been so heavy that long-term parking with its 2,686 spaces often is full. Airport managers are already nervous that all their 7,948 spaces might be full during the coming holiday season, and figure they may need to add remote parking and shuttle service.

The new garage is expected to open in the summer of 2007.

Next is a $12 million plan to add three more gates to the airport's "C" concourse to provide capacity for more flights. Pelly said he expected to ask for formal County Commission approval in the next few months with construction starting shortly after Jan. 1 and lasting up to 18 months.

Neither project would be paid for by county property taxes. Pelly said fees would be used in both cases.

Parking charges would pay for the garage.

Commissioners declined, however, to go along with Pelly's request to increase several parking charges as part of the financing package he hoped to show potential lenders.

Commissioner Mary McCarty led the objections. She said the airport has $22 million in various capital reserve accounts, so the airport probably doesn't need to borrow the full $55 million to build the garage.

Commissioner Jeff Koons raised a concern that could increase the cost of the garage. He said airport parking plans call for long-term parking on Belvedere Road, territory he'd like to devote to urban revitalization.

He asked Pelly to come back with the pros and cons of an even bigger garage that could be used to avoid adding parking in the area he wants for development.

For the new gates, Pelly plans to tap $25 million the airport has built up in passenger facility charges that can only be used for terminals, runways and other such improvements. That money can't be tapped for the parking garage, he said.

Commissioners agreed to increase fees for a small, 150-space lot devoted to so-called premium parking. At $24 a day, Pelly said it's often filled. He wanted a $36 a day maximum for premium parking, hoping that would reduce demand and get users to park elsewhere.

Commissioners instead OK'd a $30 maximum. Also, the minimum charge for premium parking will increase to $2 from $1.