A first-class front door to Springfield
ARTICLE AND PHOTOS
BY DAVID BLANCHETTE
An important entrance to Springfield is in the midst of a $20 million makeover that will better accommodate visitors and give them a more positive impression of the capital city.
“This will provide a first-class front door to the city,” said Springfield Airport Authority executive director Mark Hanna regarding several projects to revamp and rehabilitate key portions of Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.
Ground was broken on June 13 for the largest project, a $7.9 million rehabilitation of the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) facility that serves business and private aviation, those who fly into and out of Springfield on their own private or corporate aircraft.
The two existing FBO hangars dating from the late 1950s to early 1960s will be stripped down to their steel skeletons and concrete floors and rebuilt from the ground up. The current general aviation terminal building will be removed and a new one constructed between the FBO hangars, which will include a new entrance area for pick-ups and drop-offs, offices, conference areas, pilot lounges, a canteen area and future rental space.
The $7.9 million will also rehabilitate the nearby Lincoln Land Community College aviation program hangar and parking lot, plus rehabilitate the hangar currently used by the Bunn Corporation.
Demolition work is underway with scheduled completion by late 2019. The Airport Authority board awarded the project to Halverson Construction Company of Springfield in March 2018.
“This is the front door to Springfield for a lot of business travelers who generally fly in on $15 to $25 million aircraft,” Hanna said. “When you see what’s over there now compared with what this is going to be, it’s amazing. These people have the wealth and resources to do projects and investments in the community.”
The FBO project was made possible by a 20-year lease recently signed with Stellar Aviation of Florida, which intends to make Springfield their flagship operation, Hanna said. He added that 20 years of guaranteed lease payments meant the Airport Authority could secure commercial financing for $3.54 million, with the remaining $4.39 million project cost funded through general obligation bonds.
“For years, we have not had a long-term tenant in the FBO,” Hanna said. “Now we have a 20-plus year lease and part of the deal with them coming into this is that the airport will make a significant renovation to the facilities in exchange for the lease and step-ups in the rental payments.”
Stellar Aviation Group is a chain of boutique FBOs that are operated in secondary or tertiary markets. They currently have locations in Springfield; South Palm Beach, Florida; Wilmington, Delaware; and another location under final negotiation.
“These facilities will be on or above par for anything you will see in the state of Illinois and they will encourage more guests and traffic to come into the airport,” said Stellar Aviation Group chief operating officer Brad Kost. “I’ve seen around the country at our facilities when we’ve done these types of improvements how much it has meant for the market share increasing at the airport. Springfield can capture businesses from other airports that have been waiting for these types of state-of-the-art facilities and have them consider Springfield as a home base for their aircraft or a place to conduct business.
“The conference facilities alone will allow business leaders from all around the United States, whenever they are traveling into the area, to be able to come in and conduct meetings right there at the airport,” Kost said. “Businesses can come out to the airport, aircraft can come into the airport and bring professionals into the area, and they can meet right there in those airport facilities.”
Sangamon County board chairman Andy Van Meter said the new FBO project is evidence of a forward-thinking Airport Authority board.
“These Airport Authority board members look like sober citizens, but they’ve also taken some very calculated risks to build up the airport and bring traffic through the airport,” Van Meter said. “This FBO facility is another example of them reaching out and taking a risk when it would have been very easy to just let it slide for another 10 years.”
Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said the work will lead to more good things for the city.
“When most of us think about the airport we think of commercial flights, but really it’s an economic engine for the city of Springfield,” Langfelder said. “We have a great Airport Authority board that shares our vision of moving the Springfield area forward.”
The chairman of that Airport Authority board, Frank Vala, said the FBO project is evidence that the board is making wise investments with taxpayer money.
“We are doing this work in phases so Stellar Aviation can continue to generate revenue and pay us rent, which helps pay off our bonds,” Vala said. “I’m proud to say that we operate this airport with less than 40 percent tax money. We generate between 60 and 70 percent of the revenue ourselves through leases to Standard Aero and Stellar, private plane operators, landing fees and fees the airlines pay us to sell tickets and load baggage.”
The entire airport will also benefit from another major project that will add significantly more parking spaces, simplify vehicle access, and remove an old, unused building.
Work will begin in July on a $2.3 million road and parking project, with $1 million coming from the Illinois Department of Transportation and $1.3 million from the Airport Authority through passenger facility charges, local fees that are a part of air passenger travel tickets. The contract was awarded in May 2018 to Truman L. Flatt & Sons Company of Springfield, and construction should be complete by late fall 2018.
The airport always needs more free parking, but Hanna said there’s much more to the project than that.
“If you’re coming through and you’re not familiar with the current airport terminal road, it can be confusing and inconvenient,” Hanna said. “Generally speaking, terminals should have a continuous, one-way, multilane loop and that’s what we are going to do.”
The current exit lane away from the airport terminal will be transformed into several hundred additional parking spaces, and the current utility road to the east of the parking area will be used to make a continuous, counter-clockwise circle drive, Hanna said. The old two-story brick hotel building at the west end of the FBO area is now being demolished to make way for the road and FBO area work. Those using the new FBO facility will have their own access road that will end in a T-junction in front of the National Guard base static aircraft display just to the east of the base’s main entrance, Hanna added.
An additional $3.3 million worth of work is now being done on the airfield perimeter roads, which are used by service vehicles to keep them off the runway. The project involves resurfacing, reconstructing and in some cases the realignment of approximately two miles of roads. Illinois Valley Paving was awarded the project in August 2017 and work is expected to be complete by late fall 2018.
“These roads have been deteriorating and crumbling, and we have to keep foreign object debris such as crumbling bits of asphalt and concrete off the airfield,” Hanna said. “A lot of these roads will see almost a total reconstruction and overlay, and in some cases, a new road bed altogether.”
Hanna said the Airport Authority recently took delivery of a $725,000 aircraft rescue and firefighting truck manufactured by Rosenbauer and a new $400,297 jet fuel tank installed by Illinois Oil Marketing Equipment Inc., both needed upgrades for the airport. There is also a $1.18 million contract with R.L. Vollintine Construction of Springfield for terminal work that will see the removal of the third-story traffic control tower remnant, a new roof, window glazing, and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements. This ongoing work will be completed by fall 2018, Hanna said.
Finally, Hanna said a $5 million terminal expansion and upgrade project is in the planning stage, the last major part of a multiphase terminal renovation program the Airport Authority hopes will start in the fall of 2018.
“We have already done major improvements to the mechanical systems, boilers, chillers, lighting upgrades, restroom upgrades, installed a new elevator and a new jet bridge,” Hanna said. “We will make the main terminal wider and increase the seating capacity in the secure waiting lounge past the TSA’s passenger screening lanes, which will give the passengers more breathing room and give the TSA a more standardized passenger screening lane.”
The billboard above Gate Number 4 that says “Welcome to Historic Springfield” will be redone as well, Hanna said. The MRO or commercial aviation area on the airport’s north side, what people may know as the Garrett Aviation area, will remain unchanged for now, he said, hinting more projects may be in store for the airport’s north side in the near future.
“When these projects are complete, you will walk through the main passenger terminal facility from one end to the other and never know that you are going from 1950s through 1980s extensions and renovations,” Hanna said. “It’s a lot more cost effective to do it this way rather than pursuing what could be a new $100 million terminal in a different location.”
“This site works very well for us,” Hanna said. “With these improvements we will be set up for the next few decades.”