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Throwback Thursday: MidAmerica Airport takes shape

On March 22, 1997, St. Clair County leaders were talking to American Eagle and Southwest Airlines.

The steel skeleton of the terminal was going up and the control tower was in operation.

MidAmerica-St. Louis Airport was cause for a whole lot of pride and optimism 18 years ago. That was well before “Fleecing of America” segments and regular drubbings by politicians of one party and members of the other trotting out doomsday scenarios for Scott Air Force Base had we not spent $319 million to build and more than $30 million to support the civilian airport next door.

Back in that spring when hope was new, there were predictions of a July completion and October opening. The photo caption of terminal construction that day included this nugget: “The airport will have four gates when it opens, but could eventually expand to 85 gates.”

Well, the airport terminal didn’t open until March of the following year. There was no airline in sight, although former airport director Rick Hargraves said there were a lot of lookers.

The empty airport earned few fans when county leaders asked for $2.5 million for improvements barely a year after the empty airport opened.

Fast forward through a string of failed plans, lawsuits and passenger service scenarios to arrive at the present. Allegiant Airlines uses one of two gates at the airport to get you to Tampa Bay or Orlando. Boeing is building defense components. Fresh produce and fish take flight from the airport.

And county leaders still are still on the verge of something big.

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