Myrtle Beach Airport Project Stripped Down

After months of uncertainty and tension, Horry County on Thursday stabilized plans for a new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport by approving a scaled-down $200 million version of the project.

That cost, below recent estimates of up to $253 million, can be covered with "little or no risk" by money the county either has or expects soon. But the less-expensive price tag also means cutting some key terminal features, including space and processing for international passengers.

The action was a contrast to the past few months, when County Council shut down the project in frustration over ballooning costs and debated the status of Airport Director Bob Kemp's job.

The planned terminal is will provide space for a growing number of visitors to the Grand Strand.

"At the present time, the project manager is indicating the construction will take 24 months," Kemp said. "So by mid-April 2008, it will be complete."

The council vote Thursday allows contractors to continue with design plans and come up with a guaranteed maximum price on the terminal by early March 2006, Kemp said.

For now, all costs are estimates and will not be set until most of the design is completed.

The $200-million plan was created by taking plans for a "dream terminal," which would cost about $250 million, and shearing away features to bring down the price to something the county can afford now.

The cuts eliminated a second taxiway that would keep the airport functioning if the first were out of commission, a processing facility for foreign passengers and space outside the terminal for larger international passenger jets, and a communication system that would allow airlines to easily switch ticket counters and flight gates.

Kemp said those amenities are important to the future of the airport and urged council members to approve a $209 million version that would have included them.

The council could decide to add features back into the project, but some members were concerned about committing money that is not yet in the county's pocket.

"What the decision Thursday will do, I believe, is allow us to proceed to a firm, fixed price, and then we can decide what we want to do with the airport," said Councilman Howard Barnard, who made the motion to accept the $200 million terminal. "If we get additional funds and they are there and we know they are there, we can add on from the list contractors have provided us."

Councilmen Marion Foxworth, Mike Ryan and Mark Lazarus voted against continuing with the $200 million plan.

Foxworth railed against the council for not including upgrades to Harrelson Boulevard, which he said was a key part of a hard-won agreement over airport funding with Myrtle Beach.

The boulevard was to be paved and extended as part of the terminal project, the city and county agreed several years ago, but Foxworth said it was irresponsibly being left out.

"To me and the neighbors of that project, Harrelson Boulevard is just as important, if not more important, than the terminal," he said.

Some council members said they are willing to work on paving the road, but no action was taken Thursday.

Lazarus said the county might not be able to come up with the funding to cover the project.