On Dec. 5, Pitkin County commissioners will conduct a public hearing in preparation of adoption of the airport master plan. This has been a lengthy and expensive process both in terms of money but also in terms of man hours invested by our community in the planning process. I served on the Community Master Plan Committee and have actually read the complete master plan document. This plan will outline the future development of our airport and how our airport administration will spend a projected $260 million adjusted for inflation over the next 18 years.
I went into this process very skeptical of all the planning effort that was being expended. After all, the airport is essentially complete. There is no more land to expand onto, the runway can’t get any longer or wider, so why such an extensive effort to update a plan that was just completed just eight years ago? We have a great little terminal that works well most of the time and is 3 miles from downtown Aspen. No ski area in the world enjoys such an amenity. In 1993, 253,914 passengers moved through our airport. We have not come close to that number since. The consultants used some very creative and unique modeling to project future number of passengers coming and going and they still struggle to reach the 1993 volume.
So why do we need a new terminal? Since 9/11 the security requirements have made our friendly little terminal obsolete. Add in the fact that the building does not conform to any of the current Americans with Disabilities Act standards and it becomes clear that we have a structure that can’t be adapted or remodeled to meet the current standards or requirements. It has to be replaced.
There are many things in the master plan for the community to consider. Do we really need a 1,100-car parking garage when the community advocates for auto disincentives? Is a second fixed-base operator (FBO) really warranted when the private jet industry is moving away from private jet ownership to fractional ownership? There is 80,000 square feet reserved for the new terminal. Is that an absolute number or can something smaller, efficient and more intimate be considered? All these items are in the master plan and there needs to be a continued commitment that these issues are properly vetted during the upcoming planning and approval process.
Just because it is now clear we need a new terminal does not mean we have to stand back and let the outside consultants and experts dictate to us what our community is going to get. The airport terminal is just too important to locals and guests alike to be designed by outsiders who have no grasp, understanding or appreciation of the values that make Aspen so unique. This community has way too many creative people to pass this off to the outside experts and consultants.
We should require that the county commissioners form a local design review committee of creative and interested locals to oversee a design competition so we get a terminal that reflects our overall community values. We need a terminal that is intimate and efficient but retains that wow factor when visitors get off their flights and get that first look at why they came to Aspen, or reminds the returning local why we always come back. This terminal has to reflect our commitment to sustainability and the community’s commitment to our environmental principals. We need a greater commitment to alternative transportation other than a huge parking garage and more rental cars. This is what Aspen should get and we as a community should settle for nothing less.
As far as long-range planning and operation of the airport as a whole, there really must be an airport advisory committee or airport authority formed from knowledgeable people in our community to work with the airport administration to insure the master plan is adhered to and properly implemented. Anyone who has an interest in the future of our airport should plan to attend the public hearing on the airport master plan on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at noon and voice your thoughts concerning the airport master plan to our commissioners and airport administration. The master plan is posted on the airport website if you would like to see what’s in it. There has been so much invested into this master plan process and our airport is too important an asset to settle for anything less than the best effort from everyone in our community.
Rob Snyder works in commercial real estate and represents the owners of the Airport Business Center.