The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport is looking to spread its wings with an expansion for its arrival/departure terminal.
These efforts, Director Steve Wright said, represent a new public face for the airport, as well as plans to separate its Wings Cafe restaurant and the offices of longtime partner Northpoint Aviation. Currently, both entities occupy the same space and conflict with one another's functions.
"The restaurant has definitely gotten busier, as well as the general aviation side of the airfield," Wright said in a phone interview. "Both customer groups have definitely grown. So right now both are sharing the lobby area and there's a need to separate the businesses."
The expansion will total about 4,000 square feet, Wright said, an addition that includes a reception counter forming the main hub of the arrival/departure terminal, as well as a public waiting lounge, conference rooms, pilot resting rooms, a pilot testing room, a pilot lounge, bathrooms and other amenities. Beyond the internal developments, designs are being made to update the exterior of the terminal to blend the original structure with the new addition.
Wright said the remodeling project is necessary in part to account for increased traffic at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. In 2017, the terminal served more than 20,000 enplanements (a term for each time a passenger boards a plane), an average monthly increase of 18.1 percent over the previous year. December alone saw a 41.7 percent increase compared to 2016. This represents the latest leap in an upward trend extending back years. As recently as 2014, the airport served 16,000 enplanements.
"This is an exciting time for the airport," Wright said. "It just shows the continued growth for the airport and how this airport continues to progress and adjust to the changing economy, the changing fleet mix of aircraft."
The initial estimate is the arrival/departure terminal remodeling project will cost $1.25 milion from preliminary designs to the final touch of paint-costs to be divided out as $750,000 via a federal grant, with state and local shares equaling $250,000 each. Wright said these funds primarily come from the federal government and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as well as fees paid by airport users.
The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission is contracting with architecture firm Mead & Hunt, based out of Eden Prairie, to design the addition. Wright said the airport has worked with Mead & Hunt in the past, a long-standing relationship that includes prior expansion projects such as the taxi lane repaving project and the sewer-water expansion project, as well as the current master plan underway.
Wright said much of the planning process revolved around areas of expansion and what directions these expansions will take-notably, how to deal with the current position of two air traffic control antennas in relation to a possible connection between the terminal and a major maintenance hangar, as well as the location of a fuel system.
As the general aviation side of the airport's business ramps up in traffic, the plan necessitated the relocation of both antennas, the fuel system, and a design connecting the hangar with the terminal, Wright concluded.
"Now there's a lot of customers that go between those buildings, so we really needed those to be combined," Wright said. "We really took a look at, what are the areas that are impacting economic growth or the building growth? What's available, what can we do for achieving the needs of separating the restaurant from the general aviation?"
As of last Tuesday, the project is currently in the detail and design phase, with plans to solicit construction bids this May. Wright said tentative plans are for crews to break ground in late August or early September, with a six- to nine-month construction period. The new addition will open in either spring or fall 2019.