My turn: Airport needs tax revenue to keep up with travelers' needs

Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It's probably safe to say that every man, woman and child in the city of Juneau has at one time or another benefited from use of Juneau International Airport's facilities.

Whether that benefit is mail and goods that are sent or received, travel for business, pleasure or health reasons, or family or customers coming to visit via airplane, our airport is a valuable facility.

Both the first impression and the last view of our community is very often the Juneau International Airport. It pays dividends for us to put our best face forward and have an airport that reflects the best that Juneau has to offer in efficiency, personality and beauty.

The airport passenger terminal is often the facility that most people think of when they think of the airport. This is true for local residents, as well as out of town visitors.

A terminal which is small, inefficient and doesn't provide the amenities they have come to expect or need in their travels can go a long way toward shaping their opinion of our community. If they have a poor experience upon arrival, they may start their visit with a low impression. If it occurs upon their departure, this may be the perception of Juneau that they take home and lessen their desire to return.

The current passenger terminal, which dates from the late 1940s (with the most recent expansion taking place in the mid-1980s, except for some cosmetic and maintenance efforts), is vastly undersized for the level of service desired by the traveling public and as befits Alaska's capital city.

Crowds inside the terminal at times are such that people can't get through the front door or move around freely due to congestion. Changes to federal regulations since 9/11 concerning security screening have contributed to a passenger flow that is inefficient and dangerous because of the congestion near stairs and the escalator.

Concessions within the terminal are very limited in space; there is no room for further expansion or for concessions within the secure departure lounge. Expansion of concession space would create greater revenues for the airport community, helping broaden the revenue base and keeping tenants' costs lower.

Security changes over the last couple of years have required us to evict or relocate important tenants. This caused reduction in revenues and loss of critical expansion space for aviation tenants. Many people ask about the possibility of a second carrier coming to Juneau to offer an alternative to Alaska Airlines. The condition of the existing terminal makes it difficult to satisfy the space needs of new entrants to the market.

The Juneau Airport Board has recently been considering a renovation and expansion of the terminal which will achieve several objectives: better flow of people within the terminal; more space for public to wait for flights, meeting and greeting; collecting baggage; increased revenue-generating space for concessionaires; and increased parking with the possibility of a covered two-story parking structure to protect travelers from the weather. These are only some of the improvements we hope to achieve as we move forward with this important gateway to our community.

This pursuit has been taking place seriously over the past two years, and with support from the community, will move from planning to the design stage in the next couple of years, with construction hopefully beginning in 2008. This could result in a completely remodeled terminal in approximately 2015.

Current funding for airport and terminal operations comes from the airport tenants through their use of the facility, and from visitors and travelers through parking and concession purchases. Capital costs (construction, equipment purchases and planning efforts) are paid through FAA grants, special fees on Alaska Airlines tickets, and to a very minor extent, from the citizens of Juneau through CBJ taxes.

The airport has asked for little financial support over the past several years. Unlike many facilities owned and operated by the CBJ, the airport traditionally has paid its own way. The airport is part of the critical infrastructure of your community, and now we need your help. Urge your Assembly representative to support the use of the one percent sales tax for the airport terminal.

• Gordon E. Evans is a retired attorney and vice chairman of the Juneau Airport Board.

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