EGLIN AFB — Major expansions to its parking, airplane apron and concourse areas and the possible construction of an office building help make up a total of more than $33 million worth of future planned and potential projects at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.
Those and other anticipated changes, some of which could get underway this year, will help the infrastructure at the 62-year-old VPS meet growing demands, county Airports Director Tracy Stage said Monday.
“We are the fastest growing airport in the country,” said Stage, who noted that all four airlines — Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta and United — at VPS have recently added flights to new destinations and more frequent trips to existing destinations.
The newest flights were announced last month. Starting June 6, Allegiant plans to offer non-stop service from VPS to Omaha, Nebraska and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Those flights will bring VPS’s total number of nonstop destinations to 30. Of those, 22 are provided by Allegiant.
Overall, “I fully expect the growth to continue,” Stage said. “These are tremendous additions to our airport and the airport system, which has put a lot of challenges on us.”
In fiscal 2018, VPS set yet another new passenger count record with a total of more than 1.4 million passengers. That total represented 21 percent growth over 2017 and a near-doubling of its total passengers since 2015, with 82 percent overall growth in three years, according to Stage.
“We’re doing good. We can’t move fast enough” to keep pace, he said.
Take a look
The county’s current lease of about 130 acres of Eglin Air Force Base land for commercial airport operations at VPS expires July 30, 2063.
Updates to the airport’s master plan, which serves as a blueprint for airport growth over the next 20 years, are nearing completion. The updated document will include revised airport layout and terminal plans.
As one of the last steps in the overall updating process, county officials have scheduled a public meeting that will allow people to view and comment on VPS’s future development plans.
The meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27 in the airport’s administration conference rooms.
And soon, “We’ll move full stream into the various capital improvements that are needed due to our capacity constraints,” Stage said.
Here is a look at some of the airport’s latest planned and potential projects.
The airport currently has more than 1,600 public parking spots. Plans call for adding up to 250 parking spaces to the west side of the main parking lot next to the passenger terminal and 120 spaces to the east.
Those additions will create room in the middle for the eventual construction of a possible three-story parking garage. Its total number of spaces is not known yet, Stage said.
Designs for the west-area expansion are 90 percent complete and the construction portion could be bid out later this month, he said.
“The expansion could start in April and we expect it to be done by the end of this summer,” said Stage, who added that the east-side expansion would follow on the heels of the west-side work.
The parking garage would be the final step in the overall parking expansion project.
Stage said officials are in the very infant stages of planning the garage and are looking at different ways of paying for the facility’s construction.
“We are faced with some parking challenges as far as being at capacity during the peak times of the year,” he said. “It’s important to get the swing space built so we can start looking at going vertical.”
Apron, concourse and offices
Among other planned projects, a large expansion of the airplane apron on the airport’s west side is expected to be under construction for most of this summer, and work on a concourse expansion on the west side of the terminal might start next year, Stage said.
The concourse project could include up to five boarding gate hold rooms, which are where passengers board the planes.
In what Stage called a possible project, officials are considering the construction of a multi-level office building that would stand on the northeast corner of the airport, east of the rental-car area.
The potential building, which could have its own parking garage, is “not a major priority from an aviation standpoint, but more of a partnership opportunity with the county, Eglin Air Force Base and Department of Defense contractors,” Stage said.
County officials do not have estimated costs yet of the public parking garage or of the potential office building and its garage. Minus those projects, the total cost of the future airport developments is estimated at about $33 million, which could be paid for with a mix of funding sources, Stage said.
County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel recently praised a video of the airport’s planned and proposed projects that Stage showed to the commission.
The video provides a very good overview of the projects, and many people will be happy to see the public parking garage get developed, said Ketchel, who is the liaison between the commission and the county Airports Department.
The video will be aired at the Feb. 27 meeting at the airport.