Economy Tied to New Myrtle Beach Terminal

The $200 million terminal plan would double the number of airplane gates and nearly triple the square footage of the existing facility, meaning a wider choice of flights.

"If you have been on an international flight and you have been in the air for a number of hours ... delays are not appreciated, and they are not understood at this point," McCamish said. "I think the second taxiway it is very important."

The terminal could go further than growing golf and tourism business.

Pat Dowling, spokesman for Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., said the expansion could attract new kinds of businesses to the area, creating an economic base that goes beyond dependence on vacationers.

"We are trying to build the next level of public and private infrastructure," Dowling said. "The ability to get in and out of Myrtle Beach and travel elsewhere around the region and the nation in a day is important."

Businesses and homeowners look to that type of convenience when deciding where to locate, he said.

"We don't need to build a palace, but we can't be shortsighted in building for the future," Dowling said.

Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, has said the elimination of a customs facility is contrary to the state's new push to attract international visitors to the coast and that the county's decision could damage its chances at state funding in the future.

Hooters Air, a locally owned airline, has been expanding service across the U.S. and is looking to markets abroad, but the company said that could be difficult in a terminal that has no facility to process those visitors.

Foreign tourists would be an asset to the local economy because they typically stay longer and spend more money, said Chad Prosser, director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

"I understand there are some real cost constraints and the council must deal with that, but when planning for the future, I would see that customs facility as something critical to have," Prosser said.

The $200 million terminal plan was chosen by Horry County Council last month after it reviewed several more expensive versions, ranging from $209 million to $250 million.

The cost, which won't be final until more design work is completed, would be a huge expenditure for the county - its total annual operating budget is $275 million.

The plan has critics on the council.

Councilman Harold Worley, who voted against it, said the county does not have the money to finish such a large-scale terminal and could be forced into raising property taxes to cover the cost.

"We could take $100 million and remodel and expand our existing terminal," Worley said. "It would be one of the finest terminals in the East Coast period."

Despite some concern, the stripped-down plan provides significant improvements to the current facility, including an increase in space from 128,000 to 377,000 square feet, seven new gates for airplanes, and up to 723 new parking spaces.

The council said more could be added, including the customs area, if more money becomes available in the future.

For travelers, the new terminal could mean a more convenient flying experience, including more direct flights, additional security screening gates, more retail shops and improved flow of vehicle traffic outside.

The balance between cost and amenities has stirred county anxiety, but it is unlikely airlines will be asked to close that gap.

Officials plan to keep airline fees to less than $10 per passenger, an increase of $2.50 from the current fee, according to information supplied by Airport Director Bob Kemp.

"We are trying real hard to bring in airlines and increased fees would make that more difficult," Councilman Marion Foxworth said.

The county already has tapped airport fees and further increases are unlikely, he said.

The airport has saved $23 million for the terminal and estimates it will have another $40 million from leases and fees.

That public-funding method might be more "forward-looking" because increased fees are almost invariably passed on to consumers and could make the new terminal less attractive to future business, Van Beek said.

"There is no doubt that the lower cost per enplanement, the greater the likelihood that an air carrier is going to serve it," Van Beek said.

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