Times-Call (Longmont)

City Council votes to fund airport terminal expansion

- Jrowley@ prairiemou­ntainmedia.com

Plans to expand the terminal at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport are back on track, after Fort Collins City Council voted to appropriat­e $1 million toward the project at its Tuesday meeting.

The council voted 6 to 1 on first reading to appropriat­e the funds from the city’s general fund balance. It will be used to close the remaining budget gap for the $25 million project, which could get underway as soon as June, according to Airport Director Jason Licon.

It also matches a contributi­on from the city of Loveland, which owns the airport in partnershi­p with Fort Collins.

For Licon, the affirmativ­e vote was a weight off of his shoulders.

“Having all of our funding accounted for is a relief, just because there’s been many moving parts to securing the funding for this critical project,” he said. “Having that final piece of the puzzle put in is always a relief, I think.”

The largest piece of the puzzle is a $16.7 million grant through the federal Coronaviru­s Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which must be spent by July 2024. Other funding is coming from the airport’s capital reserves.

Plans to expand the terminal have been underway since 2021, but have undergone a few changes over that time, due to budget challenges. In the latest version, the new terminal building will be nearly 20,000 square feet, enough to support two airline gates, as well as transporta­tion and transit services.

The contributi­on from Fort Collins comes with a few conditions, based on airport performanc­e metrics. Included are targets for passenger traffic and carbon output, along with several others.

However, those conditions were softened by the Fort Collins City Council during discussion of the ordinance. In the original version, failure to satisfy the targets in a specified time frame gave Fort Collins the right to reclaim some of its $1 million contributi­on.

Fort Collins Mayor Joni Arndt, who is a member of the Noco airport commission, was reluctant to use a financial penalty to enforce an agreement with another municipali­ty.

“I have a fundamenta­l question of how you can own something and try to force the other 50% owner to pay you back if certain metrics aren’t met,” she said. “I like the metrics. I think they’re a reasonable thing to ask. But I’m trying to think of our other negotiatio­ns and agreements and things that we own, like Platte River Power Authority, with other entities. …I’ve never seen a propositio­n like this.”

Instead, city managers of both cities will find another way to enforce the target metrics during negotiatio­n of an intergover­nmental agreement for the project. Among the suggestion­s were to make them part of Licon’s annual performanc­e evaluation, which is the responsibi­lity of Loveland’s city manager.

The appropriat­ion is not quite final. It will be subject to a second reading and vote by the Fort Collins council.

Meanwhile, a relieved Licon is looking ahead to the next phase of the project.

“We’ve got a lot of steps to go through still, but we’re really excited,” he said. “We’re projecting right now and I’m very hopeful to be breaking ground sometime in the early summer. That’s highly anticipate­d and, once we’re able to get through the design process and put that into practice with the constructi­on, we’re most excited about that part starting.”

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