$275M Asheville airport bond to fund 'modernization' including new traffic control tower

Design renderings shared by Asheville Regional Airport in March 2021 show concepts for the new terminal. The Authority is moving to issue $275 million in bonds in 2022 to pay for numerous expansion projects.
Design renderings shared by Asheville Regional Airport in March 2021 show concepts for the new terminal. The Authority is moving to issue $275 million in bonds in 2022 to pay for numerous expansion projects.

ASHEVILLE - The airport expansion project may finally get one price tag as spring gets underway: no more than $275 million.

That's according to a Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority request for financing approval that will come to Buncombe Board of Commissioners on April 5, per U.S. bond issuance law.

The "not-to-exceed" $275 million amount is for revenue bonds to be issued pending Buncombe's approval and will go toward improvements and expansion, which include a new terminal, according to an Airport Authority public hearing on March 17.

Previous estimates for terminal expansion at the airport were estimated at $230 million.

That building may break ground in 2022.

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At the public hearing, the authority outlined exactly what the money would go toward.

Janet Burnette, the authority's director of finance and accounting, announced the money will be used for:

  • Expansion and modernization of the existing terminal.

  • Expansion and modernization of the ticket lobby.

  • Transportation Security Administration screening.

  • Baggage claim and concession areas.

  • Improvements to existing infrastructure.

  • Construction of a centralized energy plan.

  • Renovation of the remaining portion of the existing terminal building.

  • Construction of a new air traffic control tower.

The new tower has been a priority since at least 2019, when the authority said in an annual report that it had "partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to initiate the site selection process for a new air traffic control tower. The new air traffic control tower is a critical prerequisite for terminal expansion."

AVL's current terminal dates to 1961, and the FAA control tower is one of the oldest in the country, according to Asheville Regional's executive director, Lew Bleiweis, who talked about expansion in 2019 when the airport landed a $10 million FAA grant for the project.

"It lacks the height to provide satisfactory line of sight for air traffic controllers," authority meeting notes from March 2021 state, "and is generally in poor condition, having exceeded its useful life."

"The Greater Asheville Airport Authority is preparing to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds for the purpose of financing its terminal expansion and renovation project," said airport spokesperson Tina Kinsey, listing the same projects outlined in the public hearing.

Bond money also may be used to fund the interest that accrues on it while construction is ongoing as well as other financial matters related to the bond.

"All the facilities financed with the proceeds of the bonds will be owned by the authority," notes from the hearing state.

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Commissioners will vote on approving the bond during its first April meeting in accordance with U.S. law requiring private activity bonds to be approved by the "governmental unit having jurisdiction over the area in which any facility, with respect to which financing is to be provided from the net proceeds of such issue, is located."

Buncombe's role in approving the bond issuance, however, doesn't mean they're putting any taxpayer money toward the airport project.

"In no event shall the county be liable for such bonds, nor shall the bonds constitute a debt of the county," a memo from county attorney Michael Frue notes, something Kinsey emphasized as well.

Frue did not immediately to respond to request for comment March 31.

Revenue bonds are backed, not by taxes, but by "revenues from a specific project or source, such as highway tolls or lease fees," according to the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission.

The authority also issued a transcript of its bond hearing to Henderson County government, which also must approve the bond issuance before it moves forward.

In other business during its April 5 meeting, the Board of Commissioners will:

  • Consider approval of a budget amendment that will continue a $445,000 grant for Buncombe's already existing Jail & Prison Re-entry Program, funded through Dogwood Health Trust.

  • Consider approval of a $225,197 budget amendment to acquire services, applications and other tools to improve Buncombe's cyber security program.

Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or arjones@citizentimes.com. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville airport upgrades: Buncombe approval sought for $275M bond