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Lee County Board of County Commissioners Approves Airport Terminal Expansion

Mark Fisher stands in front of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners to present the details of the Port Authority Terminal Expansion project. This massive project will require over $331 million in funding and is estimated to last about three years.

The Board of County Commissioners voted this week on several items that relate to the $331 million Port Authority Terminal Expansion project. The project, which has been in the works for about three years is set to begin construction early next month.

“It's a big expansion to the airport,” Deputy Executive Director of Development Mark Fisher said. “It's really going to change the look of the airport, there's going to be a lot of efficiencies and shorter lines. There's going to be a lot more concession options and just generally a lot more space in the terminal.”

The first item that the board voted on was a resolution to approve the issuance of Lee County Airport Revenue Bonds amounting to no more than $275 million. These bonds will finance a portion of the expansion project. Interest is very strong for revenue bonds right now, according to Financial Advisor Bill Case.

Deputy Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the Lee County Port Authority Brian McGonagle added that this will be the first time in over 20 years that the airport has issued new debt.

“The project will be funded by these revenue bonds as well as PFC state and local funds,” McGonagle said. He also spoke at length about the ways this financing will be used. The funds will go towards consulting for TSA checkpoints, building demolitions and construction materials among other things.

The rest of the budget that will not be covered by the bonds is going to come from the people who use the airport.

“They're called passenger facility charges and also through the airport's revenue itself. Property taxes actually do not pay for the airport, because it's basically a large shopping mall that lands airplanes,” Lee County Commissioner Brien Hamman said. “It generates revenue from all of the tenants who lease space at the airport, and from the airlines who land and use the airport. They also generate money from the passengers themselves who use the airport.”

The issuance of Lee County Airport Revenue Bonds was approved without opposition and the council moved on to the next item, a contract amendment with Manhattan Construction.

“Manhattan construction has competitively bid all construction work, they won’t be picking up a hammer themselves, they're managing the work,” Fisher said. “With the approval of this contract today, we'll be awarding 51 subcontracts to actually do the work. The project will take about three years to complete and involve hundreds of daily suppliers and workers.”

Manhattan Construction will hold all the construction contracts, according to Fisher. They have actually gone out and bid on 51 subcontracts for things like drywall, steel, glass and water. Manhattan will be the ones managing as a general contractor, managing the subcontract workers, the overall progress, critical path schedule and budget of the job.

Several board members expressed their support of the construction plans and the item was passed without opposition.

“I thought it was really a great strategy when they brought this board before us to consolidate the checkpoints to put more than concessions behind security,” Hamman said. “I find that most travelers when they get to an airport, they want to get through security because that's always the big unknown. And then then they kind of take a breath and enjoy the airport.”

The last two items were contract amendments in the amounts of over $11 million and over $5 million for Atkins North America and EG Solutions, Inc. The two companies will provide needed design evaluations and inspections as well as construction engineering and inspection services, respectively. These items were passed without discussion or opposition.

“The funding, that's what was approved by the board today, as well as the contracts to actually do the construction,” Fisher said. “It's about a three-year construction project, so these are the firms that will be in charge of building it. And then also the financing is selling revenue bonds and other financing mechanisms to help pay for the project.”

This is probably one of the biggest projects ever in Southwest Florida with a price tag of around $331 million, according to Fisher. He added that it is the biggest public works project in Southwest Florida since RSW built the new terminal in 2005.

“Prior to the COVID pandemic, we saw 10 million passengers come through our airport in 2019,” Hamman said. “We're actually on track to recover back to that amount very soon in the near future. This is an opportunity for us to expand the airport to handle that amount of passengers.”

In the first year of construction there will be little effect on travelers passing through the airport, said Fisher. It won’t be until the second year that the project will begin to affect people.

“The first year, it'll be oh, look what's going on outside. The second year, they'll definitely notice it,” Fisher said. “The last year is 2024 and it'll start coming together and I think with opening brand-new concessions and a lot of new space, it’ll be a lot more tolerable.”

Fisher explained that eventually the airport will have to shut the main entrance, Concourse C, and reroute entrances to Concourse B through a tunnel or jet bridge outside. This won’t happen until much later in the construction process, but it will inevitably be necessary so that the airport can redo the new entrance to the Concourse C.

“The airport's going to be open and, you know, conducting business during construction,” Hamman said. “So, it'll be tricky. There may be some temporary inconveniences as people use the airport, but the goal is to try and get through this process as smoothly as possible.”

All of the items related to the Port Authority Terminal Expansion project passed without opposition, something that Fisher said is no surprise.

“We've worked really hard to get the contracts approved, you know, and the funding approvals,” Fisher said. “We've worked for probably three years to get to this point so there's no real surprises. It's just a lot of zeros.”

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service of Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at spsalovitz9028@eagle.fgcu.edu.