Soon, flying from the Santa Fe Regional Airport should be more convenient and for more passengers.

The city is set to kick off a more than $ 20 million project to modernize and expand the terminal and parking lot, airport manager Mark Baca said.

The project will add approximately 9,000 square feet to the airport terminal, including a third departure and arrival gate, which Baca says will allow additional flights and a waiting area for passengers and baggage claim. enlarged.

The old terminal will be renovated to accommodate an additional airline and car rental company, as well as a cafe and snack bar, Baca said. Currently, food at the airport is sold from vending machines.

Teams from Albuquerque-based Bradbury Stamm Construction are locating utility lines and inspecting the site, Baca said last week.

“The schedule right now, we just have an idea,” he said in a telephone interview. “Because it’s such a big project, there is a lot of investigation on the site to do. We don’t have a revolutionary [date] for now, but we’ll be announcing one and hopefully launching the project in the next few weeks. “

Baca said the expansion project is necessary.

“Rather than rushing people into the queues, we will be able to have a little space to help with that,” he said. “It will be more comfortable for the passengers. “

Many of the expansion needs were spelled out in the 2017 airport master plan, which envisioned the airport’s nearly two decades of expansion based on increased ridership.

According to a note from the city, 230,000 passengers passed through the airport in 2018 and 283,000 in 2019.

The pandemic reduced passenger numbers in 2020, but Baca said the numbers were rebounding, with 200,000 passengers expected to enter or exit the Santa Fe regional airport in 2021.

According to the document, the passenger terminal measures approximately 11,000 square feet, but based on passenger traffic and similar facilities, it is expected to be closer to 33,000 square feet.

“We are developing at a faster rate than expected,” Baca said.

Baca said the airport had not received a major upgrade since 2016, when its control area was expanded to increase capacity from around 30 to around 50 passengers. Now, he said, commercial flights typically carry around 75 passengers, causing a bottleneck at security checkpoints.

Baca said he hoped the expansion would help alleviate parking issues outside the airport. The current gravel terrain, which Baca says is too small to accommodate the increasing air traffic, will more than double from

200 places to about 500 paved and “well-lit” places.

“It will be a lot safer than today,” Baca said.

City council approved construction contracts in October, but the project experienced a slowdown as some councilors expressed concerns that the $ 20 million project had not been approved by the council’s finance committee. .

City councilor and former mayoral candidate JoAnne Vigil Coppler was the first to question why such a large expense had not been considered by the committee at a meeting of public works and utilities in October, requesting that the item be returned to Finance for discussion. She also asked why the submission period was only 28 days.

On Wednesday, she said she still believed the finance committee should have reviewed the contract.

“It was a huge contract, and not going through Finance is ridiculous,” she said. “If we were on the edge at maturity, it is once again behind on contracts.”

John Quinn Pate, principal architect of the Molzen Corbin company, which contracted with the airport on the project, said the city was offered an “acceleration discount” locking in a lower price if the contracts were approved before October 14.

If this had not happened, the price would have increased by

$ 1.7 million, he said, mainly due to uncertainties surrounding the costs of subcontractors and materials.

He said he couldn’t guarantee the city would get the same price if it sent the contract back to the finance committee and missed the October 14 deadline.

The project was valued at $ 13.5 million with the city ready to provide additional funding, but the latest – and only – bid to submit was nearly $ 8 million higher than forecast, at 21.5 million. millions of dollars.

$ 10.5 million from the Legislature to fund the project, and also approved additional funding at a council meeting in October.

City Councilor Chris Rivera, chairman of the city’s seven-member airport advisory board, said he was struck by the cost of the project, but said most bids were higher than expected due to the pandemic and inflation issues. He said that “ideally” the contract would have been reviewed by the Finance Committee, but understood that time constraints made it necessary to speed up the process.

He said he spoke with Director of Public Works Regina Wheeler, who told him she believed the supply was high and there could potentially be cost savings as the project progresses.

Finance chairman Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, also a member of the public works and utilities committee, said at the October meeting that he would not support referral of the contract to the finance committee for potentially playing 1 , An additional $ 7 million in taxpayer dollars. Councilor Signe Lindell agrees.

Abeyta did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

While the cost may have been higher than expected, Randy Randall, the city’s tourism director, said he expects the expansion to be a boom for tourism.

Randall said he believed other airlines were interested in relocating to the airport, but the size of the terminal made it difficult to manage. He said connecting flights to Southern California or Chicago would likely bring the city extra tourist dollars.

“We have been operating at about the capacity of the facilities there,” he said.

“The installation was our limit. “

Adding connections at the airport would provide more options for people who have missed flights, Randall said.

He added that tourists to Santa Fe typically stay half a day longer than if they travel to the state’s largest airport, Albuquerque International Sunport, almost an hour south.

“I can see him continue to extend the length of stay here in Santa Fe,” Randall said. “And that certainly supports the business side of Santa Fe, which is also a visit.”

Baca said he does not expect construction to affect airport operations and no terminal closures are expected while work continues.