This year, the City of Tallahassee is set to pay off the bond that helped it build the Tallahassee Regional Airport terminal two decades ago. But airport directors are planning major renovations that could require a new round of long-term borrowing.
While walking on the second floor of the Tallahassee airport, interim airport director Jay Townsend says, “Smells mildewy, doesn’t it?”
He walks into the Aviation Museum, a wide, wood-floored room overlooking the runways, which he calls “a very underutilized space. I mean, it serves a nice purpose, but when you think about what you can do, you want to try and maximize leasable space.”
Leasing space to store and restaurant owners is a big part of the airport’s modernization plan. Proposed changes would see the security checkpoint moved forward to make more room for shopping and dining near the gates and the terminal expanded to create a two-story-tall viewing deck with floor-to-ceiling windows where passengers can have a drink and watch planes take off.
But Townsend says the airport would need many more passengers to pay for all that with ticket and baggage fees alone. And for the airport to borrow more money to pay for the upgrades, the airlines would have to approve. So he says the city plans to lease some of the airport’s land.
“We’re probably going to be partnering with the Chamber [of Commerce] to look at some very strategic marketing of those parcels. There’s 500-to-1,000 acres that could be developed out here,” he says.
Townsend says no matter what, the airport lobby will be renovated -- putting giant luggage processing machines underground and out of sight. And he says the city is creating a more impressive gateway to the airport as Capital Circle will soon be converted from two lanes to six leading to the terminal.
“Hopefully if we create something that everybody’s proud of, they’re going to want to fly out of here more so,” he says.
Townsend hopes Tallahassee Regional will shed its image as an inconvenient place to fly from. He says direct flights now go to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Charlotte, and fares are comparable to those at airports in bigger cities nearby.
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