Port of Pasco Holds Breath for FAA Funds for Airport

By Kristi Pihl, November 15, 2013, Tri-City Herald

The Port of Pasco has a little more certainty from Federal Aviation Administration officials that federal money will be coming to help with the $43.5 million renovation of the Tri-Cities Airport.

Port of Pasco commissioners continued to express concern this week over the port’s dependence on an $8 million discretionary grant from the FAA for the project.

As the cost of the “once-in-a-generation remodel” has grown, that grant went from being a bonus to a necessity as the port attempts to pay for the project using only airport-related funding, not general tax dollars.

FAA officials have told port officials that if the port does not receive the grant, the port can use four years of its Airport Improvement Program entitlement money for the terminal project. That would be about $9 million, said Randy Hayden, the port’s deputy executive director.

Normally, the annual entitlement that airports receive from the FAA based on the number of boardings can’t be used for terminal improvements, he said.

The estimated cost of the terminal remodel has remained virtually unchanged at $43.5 million, with 60 percent of the design completed, said Tim Dacey, project manager with Mead & Hunt.

That includes the cost of moving the staircase and restrooms to the front of the terminal building to open up the area near the security checkpoint and expanding the security, ticketing and baggage areas.

The $43.5 million estimate also includes contingency funding beyond the 5 percent required by state law when using the General Contractor/Construction Manager process.

While this cost fits within the port’s current cap, port officials will meet Monday to discuss the budget. Commissioners also will be asked to approve continuing the design process, with the suggested alternatives.

The remodel plan has been scaled back, with some items included as alternatives that port officials can decide to add back in depending on how bids come in.

For example, Gate 5 on the new concourse has been cut in size, but adding that space back is being included as an alternative, Dacey said.

Dacey said the terminal will work without the increased space at Gate 5, but in terms of long-term flexibility, it would be better to have the extra square footage.

Port Commission President Jean Ryckman said she was concerned about taking out that space.

Dacey said the concourse at Gate 5 could still be expanded in the future.

With the smaller size, it would be tight if the two largest aircraft using the terminal were leaving simultaneously.

However, those airplanes do not currently leave at the same time.

The current plan depends on the food concessionaire finishing its rental space in the terminal. Port Commissioner Jim Klindworth questioned what would happen if, when the port asks for proposals from those interested in offering the services, none of those who applied were willing or able to put in the amount of investment required, about $2 million.

Port Executive Director Jim Toomey said the port needs to put the request in the marketplace and see what proposals come in.

If the port ends up paying to finish the concessionaire space, then that would need to be built into the lease rate.

Dacey said the concessionaire would have options to cut costs, such as adding seating as passenger numbers grow.

But if the port puts money into the concession area, something else would have to be cut out, Hayden said. The typical model is for the tenant to provide the tenant improvements.

Bouten Construction Co. is expected to present port officials with a maximum allowable construction cost in March.

Because the port is using the General Contractor/Construction Manager process for the project, that amount becomes part of the contract with Bouten Construction if the port decides to hire the company as the general contractor.

If the project costs more, Bouten Construction would pay for it. If the cost is less, the port would benefit from the cheaper price tag. The port will not have a signed FAA grant when the maximum allowable construction cost is presented, Hayden said.

But officials may know if there is money in the FAA’s budget for the grant.

Toomey said port commissioners can still decide before the construction contract is signed to break the project into phases but that would require design changes.

But David Robison of Strategic Construction Management, whom the port hired to help with the process, cautioned that waiting on improvements may mean inflation would increase construction costs beyond an $8 million FAA grant.

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