May 22—Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport officials are pushing for an early July finish for its first parking garage, and they said they're ready to start collecting money from users of the 1,300-space deck.
"All the different trades are working," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, last week about the $25 million garage on which construction began just over a year ago in front of the passenger terminal.
Hart said the four-level garage's bottom floor will be used for rental cars as the vehicles shift across the terminal exit road to the deck.
A pedestrian connector passes over the exit between the garage's second level and the terminal's baggage claim area, he said.
While most of the concrete work on the garage is done, stairs and elevators are going in, Hart said. Also, workers still need to pull fiber from the terminal to the garage to operate rental and other booths in the deck, he said.
Both Hart and Airport Authority member Donna Roddy last week at a meeting of the panel remarked about continuing to build the garage early last year even though the coronavirus pandemic grounded most air travel.
"I received positive comments about the garage," said Roddy. "I know there was some hesitation last year. But this individual said it's a big plus."
Hart, too, noted that "the bottom fell out" of air travel in Chattanooga and nationally amid the pandemic. But after Chattanooga Airport was coming off of six consecutive years of record passenger boardings, the airport chief said "we decided now is the time to do that project."
"Things will come back," Hart said.
Airport officials used that same mindset in giving a green light last week for initial plans for a proposed $28 million expansion of the terminal, the largest in 31 years.
Construction of the expansion could start early next year to add three aircraft loading gates in the concourse as well as a restaurant, cafe, gift shop, updated bathrooms and a third security checkpoint for passengers.
"Let's move forward to give us additional capacity," said Hart.
A new spending plan for the 2022 budget year approved by the Authority last week includes finishing and kicking off operations of the parking garage as well as drawing up plans and the startup of work on the terminal expansion.
April Cameron, the airport's vice president of finance, said revenues from airport operations are slated to come in at $20.5 million. That's up 22% from the airport's 2021 forecast, she said.
Parking is expected to bring in about 20% of airport revenues, Cameron said.
Hart said the new budget includes no increase in parking rates or airline landing fees.
Cameron said expenses are expected to hit $14.8 million, up 16% from the current-year forecast. That includes salary increases from 2% to 4% as well as back-filling five positions, additional marketing and more costs related to terminal upkeep, she said.
About $5.7 million in capital projects and debt service for the parking garage will create a balanced budget, Cameron said.
Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority chairman, said the budget is on the conservative side.
"There's so many unknowns," he said.
Hart said he expects boardings will take until well into 2022 to come back to pre-pandemic levels, even though traffic has started to trend upward in 2021 from last year as the economy reopens.
Airlines will offer more seats on aircraft into the summer, he said. American Airlines has four nonstops daily between Chattanooga and Dallas-Fort Worth and is growing service in Charlotte as well as restarting flights into Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., Hart said.
Delta Air Lines is "starting to inch up a little bit" in terms of nonstop service, while United Airlines has added a second flight into Chicago, he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.