Airport investment critical for future economic development

An artist’s rendering of the new proposed terminal building for Central Kentucky Regional Airport. The current lack of facilities for pilots is one issue addressed in the proposed project.

Last week the Madison County Airport Board announced the beginning of the next phase of development for the Central Kentucky Regional Airport near Berea and Richmond.

Construction will start this month on a $1.8 million aircraft parking ramp, 90% of which is funded through the Federal FAA Airport Improvement Program. State and local matching funds will also help cover the cost. The project will double the airport aircraft parking area and should be completed by late fall, airport officials stated in a press release.

Need for the project is driven by an increase in corporate, personal, and EKU Aviation training operations, and included in the plans are three “T” aircraft storage hangars for 30 airplanes, meeting current requests for additional hangar space. The hangars will draw revenue through lease payments, fuel sales, and maintenance services.

The ramp expansion, designed by American Engineers of Glasgow, is the first piece of the airport’s second phase expansion. The first phase, completed in 2014, expanded the original ramp and relocated the automobile parking area. Phase II includes a new 14,000 sq. ft. terminal building, water and sewer project, and more efficient and reliable airport runway lighting.

The terminal, meanwhile, is designed by Central Kentucky Design of Berea, and will include a waiting area, conference room, crew rest area, weather planning area, café, and planned instructor/student conference rooms for the EKU Aviation program.

Berea Municipal Utilities (BMU) will be involved in the implementation of a water/sewer project, which will eliminate an airport septic system, provide fire suppression for airport buildings, and improve fire protection for the service area south of the airport, according to board member George Wyatt. “It will be a joint BMU force main sewer line, and a Southern Madison water line,” Wyatt said. “American Engineers and Kenvirons Engineering are jointly doing the design. We are applying for grants and/or low-cost loans through the Bluegrass Area Development District.” The line will likely run from the airport to Beaumont Subdivision in Berea, according to Berea City Administrator Randy Stone.

In addition, an airport lighting project will replace old runway lights with modern and efficient LED systems. The total cost for all the improvements is approximately $8 million. Grants and contributions from federal, state, and other funding sources will reduce the cost of local investment by the three governments.

Wyatt stated the expansion would not be possible without the support of Richmond, Berea and Madison County. “Having the support of the three local governments was and is critical to getting improvements at the airport. The airport is owned by the three governments, and no funding is possible without the cooperation of all of the governments,” Wyatt said.

Last year, the City of Berea allocated $150,000 for the improvements, while this year, the council voted to budget $25,000 for the facility, the same amount it has allocated in previous years. Berea Mayor Steven Connelly said investment in the airport is a critical component for the region’s future economic development.

“We are very committed to supporting our regional airport for two reasons, both of which are rooted in economic development,” Connelly said. “One is that the airport is increasingly significant to our industrial manufacturing plants. The other is the contribution that the Eastern Kentucky University Aviation program is making to education, the vitality of the airport, and the our local economy.”

Both Connelly and Wyatt noted having an airport just minutes away from Berea and Richmond industries will likely appeal to prospective industrial clients. In addition, having an airport that is up-to-date and which can serve corporate pilots will also draw significant interest, Wyatt said.

Airport officials said updating the facility will potentially increase city and county payroll tax income, increase property values, spur industrial and retail expansion, and help in business retention. Board members also hope Phase II of the expansion will impact tourism, finishing in time for the Breeder’s Cup in Lexington in 2020.

Connelly noted the hard work of airport board members to bring the improvement project to fruition, which he said greatly enhances the facility’s potential to positively impact economic development. “It’s a highly desirable piece of infrastructure for Berea,” Connelly said of Central Kentucky Regional Airport. “Berea sees it as a real asset, and we want to commit to it and contribute in a responsible way whenever we have the chance.”

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