Area residents shared their reactions to renovations that would nearly double the size of MidAmerica Airport, one of the few regional alternatives for travelers seeking budget flights to vacation destinations.
Haywood Henderson was traveling through the more than 20-year-old facility Thursday as airport leaders hosted an open house to inform the public about the proposed renovations.
“It’s very nice,” said Henderson, a Florida native who was traveling for the first time via MidAmerica from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Springfield, where he has worked for many years.
“I’m sure it’s going to grow over time,” Henderson added.
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Craig Miller of Belleville said he would frequent the airport more often, but the airport’s passenger airline, Allegiant, doesn’t offer flights to the destinations he frequents.
“Get another airline or two and make sure it stays here,” Miller said.
Expanding the facility’s footprint could potentially allow for another passenger airline to join Allegiant, said airport Director Tim Cantwell.
Travelers are likely to wait in lines that have become standard at MidAmerica airport, especially when more than one flight is departing at the same time, Cantwell said. The airport simply needs more room to accommodate a growing passenger count, Cantwell said.
Annual passenger traffic increased from 65,000 in 2015 to more than 244,000 in 2017, according to St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern.
“It’s the current passenger pressure in peak times,” Cantwell said. “We are very, very crowded.”
The airport also needs upgrades to meet post-9/11 security standards as well as updates to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only one elevator is currently available to people who need it, either arriving or departing, causing problems with keeping foot traffic flowing.
“We’re getting really close to having a safety problem,” the airport director said.
Proposed renovations would expand the airport on both sides and reorganize passenger flow into a counter-clockwise direction. Doing so would ensure people are coming in one way and exiting another, Cantwell said. Passengers currently enter and exit through the same stairwell and doorway.
MidAmerica Airport is seeking federal grant money to cover up to $28 million in renovations, though St. Clair County would still have to foot upwards of $7 million over the next three years as part of the grant agreement.
County Administrator Debra Moore said while the county plans to pursue more grants to pay for the project, the county could end up taking on government debt, known as selling bonds, to pay for it.
“We’re not trying to overbuild,” Cantwell said. “We’re trying to satisfy the current and reasonable demand in the future.”
The grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration has not yet been approved. If the grant is not awarded to MidAmerica, the renovations will not move forward, Cantwell has said.
Though passenger count and revenue has increased in recent years, St. Clair County continues to provide an annual subsidy to the airport. That subsidy increased from $8.3 million in 2016 to $8.6 million in 2017, according to county audits.
Earlier this month, the Public Building Commission, which oversees and manages the airport on behalf of St. Clair County, approved a $2.1 million design contract with Springfield-based engineering and design firm Crawford, Murphy and Tilly for the proposed renovations.
Details of the proposed project are available at the airport’s master plan website at https://bit.ly/2zBM4US.