MANATEE -- Travelers might want to pack a hard hat next time they fly from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
SRQ is in the midst of a series of projects designed to attract new business to the 72-year-old airport.
The Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority approved a bid Monday that will expand its customs area to handle more international travelers with hopes of attracting European charter service. The board approved another $186,489 bid to add 2,000 linear feet of sidewalk plus lightning from University Parkway to the terminal.
Along with other projects anticipated in the next year, the airport will create a new look for the 25-year-old terminal. The final payment on bonds for construction of the terminal comes due in August.
"It's a lot like having a new house with no mortgage," said Frederick "Rick" Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ.
The customs facility at SRQ now can process 130 to 150 passengers during a peak hour, but to handle larger European planes, the facility will grow to process 250 to 300 passengers in a peak hour. The expansion is designed to attract carriers such as Monarch which could bring German tourists and European athletes here for IMG Academy and Nathan Benderson Park.
Magnum Builders of Sarasota was awarded the $2.3 million customs project, which includes a 10 percent contingency. The original projected cost was $2 million for the project, but U.S. Customs and Border Patrol mandated upgrades to technology and other areas that increased the cost, Piccolo said. The renovation took more than two years to gain approval from U.S. Customs, he said. Sixty seven percent of the construction cost ($1.57 million) is funded through grants, while the remaining 33 percent is split between FDOT and the air
If overseas charter service comes, the airport has a design to connect the expanded customs area to the terminal.
"If we secure service and it starts to build... then the next phase would be building that corridor into the terminal," Piccolo said. "We can operate with the facility the way it is once it's expanded, but if we get really busy then we'll have Phase No. 2."
While focus remains on adding international service, Visit Sarasota County is also seeing demand in domestic markets for service here, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Philadelphia, year-round service to Boston and a hub servicing the West Coast.
Of interest, one-time AirTran flight Baltimore and Pittsburgh could come into the fold next year through Delta for seasonal non-stop service for spring training, the Herald previously reported. Piccolo revisited that topic Monday saying that it's likely that non-stop service from Thurgood Marshal Baltimore-Washington International Airport will happen for 2015 spring training.
"I'm happy to report that Baltimore, it looks like we'll have new incentives there to attract some service there," Piccolo said.
The airport did offer direct service via Atlanta from Delta for spring training this year.
Mark Stuckey, vice president of special projects and development for SRQ, said once multiple agencies from Sarasota, Manatee and the targeted destination pull together marketing money, the packages are more attractive to airlines. SRQ already offers up to $200,000 in marketing assistance and waived landing fees for new year-round service.
More renovations coming
SRQ has more projects beyond a renovated customs area and new sidewalks.
A $1.7 million baggage claim and rental car counter renovation is ongoing on the west end and is expected to be completed in May. The airport also requested bids for a reconfigured terminal access road design to alleviate congestion, expected to cost $5.6 million, and to be funded primarily by FDOT.
If FDOT approves releasing money earlier for curbside improvements, the airport will have three projects (curbside, customs and terminal renovations) going on at the same time, he added.
Authority member Leslie Wells is pleased with progress at the airport.
"It looks like we're moving in the right direction, and updating, and upgrading and making us more state-of-the-art," Wells said. "I think it's an exciting time for us."
A second-floor terminal renovation is expected to start in July if the authority approves a bid at its May meeting. Airport staff developed a phasing schedule aimed at minimizing inconveniences for travelers, Piccolo said.
One of the larger projects to transform the look of the infield is years away. Airport staff is still talking with the Federal Aviation Administration about funding to relocate the air traffic control tower, which would allow hotels and other development around the infield. The FAA could fund the $10.2 million project as early as 2016, but the money will likely come later, Piccolo said. Local funding is already committed.
A new East Airport Access Road connecting to 15th Street East is also in the works with cooperation of Manatee County Government, and is 90-percent designed.
With all the projects up for bidding, authority board member Carlos Beruff said he wants to make sure staff is making calls to get as many companies to bid on the airport's projects. The Customs project only turned out four bidders when it should have brought in seven bidders, he said.
"I think if you reach out, there's plenty of good, qualified contractors within a hundred mile area of here that are qualified to do this job," Beruff said. "I'd like to see a lot of bidders."