The city announced Friday that the Durango-La Plata County Airport plans to buy land and two commercial building across the street from the airport to expand.
The contract includes a $3.9 million purchase of 12.523 acres and two commercial buildings on the north-northeast side of the existing terminal. The parcel is owed by Koinonia Properties LLC.
“To me, this is a very strategic opportunity we here at the airport took advantage of,” Tony Vicari, airport director, told The Durango Herald on Friday. “It’s a very rare opportunity to acquire land adjacent to a terminal facility. In most other circumstances, that’s already spoken for or developed.”
In a new release, the city of Durango said acquiring the land will “allow for long-term airport growth and open new development alternatives for consideration.”
The sale is not complete, Vicari said.
Durango city councilors and La Plata County commissioners first have to approve the contract through separate votes. The city will vote Feb. 5, and the county will vote Feb. 12.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said the property is an ideal location for the airport’s expansion.
“As our population has been growing, the need for the airport to grow and expand has been evident for several years now,” Lachelt said.
Durango Mayor Sweetie Marbury agreed the expansion is good news for Southwest Colorado.
“It will be wonderful for our community,” Marbury said. “It will allow the airport to grow and pay its own way, and I think that’s the right way to go.”
If approved, the airport expansion would not require funds from the city of Durango, La Plata County or taxpayers. It also would not require the airport to raise any fees, Vicari said.
Instead, the expansion would be funded by existing fees from the “Passenger Facility Charge,” a $4.50 fee assessed to every airport passenger. That way, the expansion would be funded entirely by people who use the airport, Vicari said.
“We really got a strong message from La Plata County voters in 2016,” he said, referring to a failed property tax hike for the airport. “We listened to that, and now we’re looking at less aggressive, self-funded ways to incrementally move forward to meet our growing demand.”
According to the news release, the land is likely going to be used for passenger vehicle parking expansion, rental car facilities and a circulation road or airport road realignment, which could open land for possible terminal expansion.
Vicari said passenger traffic at the airport increased 1.8 percent in 2018 and has more than doubled over the past 15 years, creating pressure on facilities and infrastructure that haven’t been extensively updated in years.
“If we want to see additional air service in our market, we need to make the investments necessary to accommodate growing demand and the ever-evolving needs of the airline industry,” Vicari said in the release. “Our 30-year-old terminal facility has served us well, serving over 7.3 million passengers since 1988, but it is not designed to handle the level of air traffic that we see today.”
Vicari told the Herald on Friday that the property was listed on the market in the past year, which presented a rare opportunity to expand. For the most part, the airport is surrounded by developed land.
If the purchase is completed, an ensuing study will evaluate existing terminal facilities and long-term consideration of renovation, expansion or new construction of airport facilities. The study would also look at a funding strategy that uses airport revenue sources.
According to the city’s news release, the airport had 378,000 passengers in 2018 and contributes $280 million annually to the regional economy. The airport does not receive any local tax funding and operates on self-sustaining revenue.
The two buildings at 820 Airport Road were built in the mid-1990s by Loronix, a security software company that later became Verint Inc. Most recently, Crossfire LLC, an oil and energy company, was based in the buildings.