Traverse City’s Airport Is Bursting At The Seams — And Expansion Is Coming

It was a year of record traffic at Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport (TVC). July was the busiest month for TVC ever with just under 113,000 passengers. The growth allows the airport to look to the future – a future in which, according to TVC director Kevin Klein, peak summer traffic could increase by a further 32 percent to 150,000 monthly passengers by the end of the decade. To support these numbers, the airport needs to grow, and TVC is already preparing for this case.

In October, TVC’s governing body – the Northwest Regional Airport Authority (NRAA) – approved a major park expansion due to break the ground next week. And TVC is already reviewing preliminary plans that could eventually triple the size of its terminal.

According to Klein, the TVC’s existing long-term car park has 989 spaces. The planned expansion will add a completely new section to the east of the existing long-term property. The project also includes a new charging station for electric cars, underground rainwater retention systems and a reallocation of the existing property. All in all, the project will add 327 brand new long-term parking spaces, although Klein says TVC will ultimately add a total of 425 spaces between the new lot and the remaining strip. It’s a 43 percent increase in TVC’s long-term parking capacity.

“We actually looked at this extension before COVID,” Klein told The Ticker. “We started having some basic discussions in 2017 and 2018 – just general discussions about how we would need [extra parking] because our passenger numbers are increasing. In 2019, when we saw our pre-COVID record number of passengers, our lot exceeded its maximum capacity almost daily. Usually we would fill in the lot during the spring break or at major events like the film festival and the Cherry Festival. But in 2019 we started having a full parking space month after month, all the time. We had to find creative parking options, between short-term and long-term parking and gravel areas. So we knew that we had to start developing a new property during this time. “

When COVID hit, it put park expansion plans on hold. As air traffic spread around the world, nobody knew when and whether traffic would normalize again. In 2021, says Klein, I took the conversation seriously again.

“The fact that we’ve been setting records every month so far this year has just made it really clear again that we have to get this going before we get into a situation where we don’t have any parking spaces,” Klein says.

The NRAA Cherry Capital Airport Building and Grounds Committee voted on October 22nd to approve an offer from Team Elmer for $ 2,130,156.97, with costs being met in full from the airport’s revenue. All other relevant permits have been obtained, said Klein, so that the project will start on Monday. The goal is to be finished by Memorial Day.

A longer-term growth plan will be the expansion of the airport terminal TVC. According to Klein, Traverse City-based engineering firm Prein & Newhof and Minneapolis-based architecture firm Alliiance recently created a “terminal narrative plan” for TVC that outlines a preliminary draft for the project.

“The Terminal Narrative Plan is a report that we have to present to the FAA to justify the further expansion of the terminal,” explains Klein. “And this plan contains forecast data for the passengers. It contains an inventory of the current facilities. What works well What is not working well? What needs to be changed And then we extrapolated to the year 2035. “

Klein continues: “[Our terminal design] currently includes five jet bridges and two floor loading positions. The study found that we will need 14 jet bridges by 2035. So, [the preliminary plan] means going from five to 14 bridges. “

The expansion plan would actually be an airport with 15 jet bridges. As Klein explains, the design would take the current concourse design of the TVC terminal and essentially “replicate” it twice more. The resulting design would have three terminal halls with five jet bridges each. For TVC, this is an inexpensive design, says Klein, because it would offer both easy scheduling of project construction and the ability to open or close an entire station concourse due to seasonal fluctuations in traffic.

The NRAA has approved the study, which is the first step in building the terminal expansion. There are many more steps to be taken, including a full FAA review of the study and environmental and financial feasibility studies. Klein also points out that TVC would likely need bond support to build the facility, given that cost estimates are “$ 173 million to $ 250 million, depending on the schedule and how much work is completed.” [at once]. ”For example, the NRAA may decide to build one hall first and then build the other a few years later, which would have an impact on costs and funding.

Klein says TVC will likely “begin the environmental studies and financial feasibility study” in 2022. These studies will take about a year, after which a more in-depth design process would begin. With a comprehensive design plan by the end of 2024, Klein hopes to “start building the terminal in 2025”.

In the meantime, local stakeholders will have an opportunity to intervene. The Grand Traverse and Leelanau district commissions both have members who serve on the NRAA board. The terminal study was briefly discussed at Grand Traverse County’s Board of Commissioners meeting this week, with some commissioners asking questions about how much growth in air traffic is expected from Traverse City and how that growth will affect the lives of locals – especially homeowners who live near the airport. CEO Rob Hentschel, who also serves on the NRAA board of directors, noted that TVC is already the third largest airport in the state (after Detroit and Grand Rapids).

“I think we will see these peak times of the year continue to grow,” says Klein of the long-term traffic growth. “I can imagine that July will grow slightly from 113,000 passengers to 150,000 in the next 10 years. On an annual basis, our record for 2019 is 579,000 passengers. Our estimates [for this year], I think we will have almost 590,000 passengers, maybe 592,000. So we’re really starting to hit 600,000 in the next 10 years [annual passengers]. You see growth of 1-2 percent, and that equates to growth of 60,000 to 120,000 passengers per year. That’s a lot of growth. It just depends on how healthy our economy stays and whether Michigan continues to deliver what the traveling public wants. “

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