SRQ aims to improve customs facility

SARASOTA -- Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is aiming to please more international airlines after failing to lure Germany’s Condor Airlines last fall.

The Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority on Monday voted to move forward with part of a $2.9 million expansion project for its U.S. Customs facility, a decision that was previously left on the table at its September meeting.

“If we want to grow this airport we’re going to have to do this,” said Dr. Gary Kompothecras, authority board member.

The Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority agreed to approach the project in phases.

Overall plans propose 21,201 square feet in upgrades and new construction in two phases.

The airport plans to move forward with the less costly phase first. Phase 1 is estimated to cost $794,305 and proposes renovating 12,214 square feet to add offices, work stations, training areas, passenger waiting areas, interview and search rooms and detainee bag storage.

“Phase 1 will eliminate any impediment of being able to attract a flight,” said Rick Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. “If it works and we bring in more flights we go to Phase 2. If it doesn’t we don’t have as much money sunk into it.”

Phase 2 is estimated to cost $1.84 million, a bulk of which will include new construction to add exit corridors, elevated corridors, escalators and elevators. Airport officials set a contingency budget for the project at $277,151.

Securing Condor Airlines is not off table for Sarasota Bradenton International Airport nor other major airports along Southwest Florida. The Frankfurt-based airline delayed its decision to offer seasonal trans-Atlantic service in 2011 and 2012 to the area due to the Gulf oil spill.

While Condor reconsiders, Piccolo said now is the time for SRQ to make significant expansions to its U.S. Customs facility that are necessary to accommodate Condor and other major international flights.

“The next time we take a bite at this apple there are going to be some other people looking to take a bigger bite,” Piccolo said.

An engineering contract for Phase I will be presented to the airport authority at its next meeting in April. Phase I is slated to begin construction in late August with completion estimated for December.

In other news Monday, the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority was leaning heavily toward ditching the Transportation Security Administration in favor of private security contractors.

Instead, the board postponed its decision due to lingering uncertainty over the level of liability at stake for the airport if it opts out of TSA’s services.

“It seems to me like you’re a little ambiguous about whether there’s more liability by going private,” Henry Rodriguez told Piccolo, who made a case for increased liability risk by using private security contractors. “I think really what you need to bring back to us is more information.”

Rodriguez along with authority members Jack Rynerson, Dr. Gary Kompothecras and Carlos Beruff expressed interest in opting out of the TSA for the Screening Partnership Program.

“When you come back to us come at it from a perspective that you’ve got a board here that’s leaning toward doing it,” said Bob Waechter, chair of the airport authority.