Airport Seeks Bond Issue

January 30, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Kent County Aeronautics Board voted Wednesday to seek a bond issue so it can move forward on a $120 million capital improvement project revolving around a 4,800-space parking ramp at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

It will cost some $79 million just to construct the parking ramp. The project will be paid for through a structured financing plan combining bond financing, airport revenue and rental car fees.

“In the $120 million budget, we anticipate $100 million in bond proceeds and $20 million in projected airport revenues,” Aeronautics Director James Koslosky told the board. “Consistent with airport policies, anticipated growth in revenues are based on very conservative growth projections. We’ve seen a steady, consistent 3 percent to 5 percent growth rate.”

The aeronautics board approved a notice of intent to issue bonds last week and authorized staff to submit it to the Kent County Board of Commissioners for approval. If it approves the plan, the board will then publish a notice of intent.

Brian Picardat, the airport’s finance and administration director, explained that the notice indicates the bonds will be issued unless taxpayers request a referendum within 45 days of the published date.

The finance committee drafted a notice of intent for a $130 million bond issue.

“We put the notice of intent at $130 million just to cover ourselves in case of increase in cost or increase in interest rates,” he said. “If it ends up being a little more than $120 million, we won’t have to go back and publish another notice.”

Capital improvements will include a terminal roadway canopy, pedestrian sky bridges, escalator and elevator lobbies, a new vehicle entrance plaza, and some roadway and utility modifications. The canopy will have a “wave” design similar to that of DeVos Place convention center and it will stretch from the ramp to the terminal building.

Koslosky said as part of the project, surface parking lots will be reconfigured and expanded, as well. Upon the project’s completion, the ramp and surface lots combined will offer more than 10,000 parking spaces, he noted.

Based on future growth projections, the airport will max out its parking inventory in the next two to three years, he said. Conservative growth estimates have indicated that Ford International will need to add 4,200 parking spaces by 2023.

Koslosky pointed out that the planned improvements will offer the traveling public more than 4,000 covered parking spaces, more than triple the number of long-term parking spaces close to the terminal building and more than double the number of short-term parking spaces. The improvements will also provide enough space for rental car facilities to double.

“There are no extras in this capital improvement plan; there are only critical investments that will complete and add to the value of parking operations at the airport,” Koslosky told the board. “The plan will also give us the opportunity to enhance air service marketing efforts, both efforts to expand service from existing carriers and to attract low-cost carriers who look to have adequate parking facilities.”

Koslosky said the size of the parking ramp is a little difficult to comprehend. As a means of comparison, he pointed out that the combined total space of all the city of Grand Rapids parking ramps downtown is roughly 3,700 spaces, or 1,100 fewer than the new ramp alone will have. In terms of square footage, the planned ramp will total 1.2 million square feet of space, compared to, say, DeVos Place, which boasts 1.1 million square feet.

The airport is not supported by taxpayer dollars and has been a self-supporting county enterprise for more than 50 years, Koslosky pointed out.    

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