Parking at the Manhattan Regional Airport will come at a cost at a yet-to-be determined date.
The City Commission unanimously approved a $4.5 million project — including interest — to expand the lot from around 700 spots to around 900 spots, repair existing asphalt of which more than a third is failing and improve lighting among other aspects. A $5 per day fee is estimated to bring in $700,000 per year, which will finance the project which only needs $615,000 per year to cover the bond.
The expansion has been in the works for multiple years. Airport Director Jesse Romo has previously said the project will address trip and fall hazards and prepare them for the future as they continue to see growing enplanements.
Mayor Mike Dodson says a potential garage in Aggieville and other possible paid parking lots could be served by the same automated system that manages airport parking.
“What we’re interested in is something like you get with your KPASS where you use a highway and it’s one card regardless of where you are,” says Dodson. “This would be much the same for our parking lots across the city.”
A study intended to project the impact a fee will have on parking behavior indicated that they expect to see some change in the amount of people utilizing the lots, though they expect the revenue will still be enough to fund a 10-year bond for the upgrades. They expect a bigger reduction of leisure traveler parking compared to business travelers.
Mayor Pro Tempore Usha Reddi says they need to monitor whether that turns out to be the case and whether revenue is keeping pace with expectations as well.
“We always think we’re being very conservative and it always ends up being a little less than what we thought,” says Reddi.
Commissioner Jerred McKee is a noted critic of funding large parking lot projects, but says he has more sympathy for the airport.
“Because asking someone to walk or bike to the airport is not very realistic,” says McKee. “Although I would hope in the future we could do a little bit more for public transportation in that area.”
McKee says his only concern was whether future maintenance was factored into the funding equation — which Airport Director Jesse Romo confirmed. As a result, Commissioner Wynn Butler was on board.
“It solves the financial issue because in the past everybody said ‘hey, we got free parking,’ but it wasn’t free — it was coming out of the general fund, you were paying taxes on it,” says Butler. “This is a plan to change that and if the estimates don’t come out right you can always kick it up to $6 a day.”
Commissioner Linda Morse has consistently voted no on airport parking upgrades, saying she appreciates amenity of free parking, but agreed with Butler on the importance of not putting the cost on the general fund.
“Even in the last three years, it has continued to deteriorate and I know we haven’t done much to maintain it at a current level.”
Staff will also work on a parking management plan to prepare a fee implementation schedule, with the possibility of offering the first hour of parking free to accommodate those dropping people off.