COS takes a wild ride through 2018

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For the Colorado Springs Airport, 2018 has been “a whirlwind,” Director of Aviation Greg Phillips will tell you.

“We feel like a team of Tasmanian devils out here, spinning as fast as we can,” he said.

There’s been plenty to set them spinning.

The good: Planning and promotion at the 900-acre master-planned Peak Innovation Park picked up speed.

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The bad: In April, a construction crew accidentally started a massive rooftop fire at the main terminal, causing about $5 million worth of damage.   

But with Phase 1 rebuilding and modernization of administrative and United Airlines offices behind them, Phillips sees a silver lining there, too.

“My gosh, we wouldn’t wish the fire on anyone — we certainly wouldn’t wish it again on ourselves — but the bright spot is that when the offices were rebuilt, they are literally like brand-new offices,” he said. “The building was built in ’94, so there really had not been any significant upgrade since then.”

Phase 2, which covers the second floor, was completed this month,  “with the exception that we will keep the airline ticket counters in temporary positions until after the holidays are over so we don’t disrupt passengers and staff,” said Aidan Ryan, COS marketing and communications manager. The airport originally anticipated a pre-Thanksgiving completion date for the renovations.

Phase 3, including the first floor and baggage claim, is slated for completion in late spring 2019.

A terminal modernization program was already in the works for COS before the fire, and had been scheduled to start in 2019. But after the blaze those plans were brought forward, to be more cost-effective and coincide with the recovery work.

“In many cases it cuts the cost of upgrades in half or more,” Phillips said, “and that makes it an opportunity that we couldn’t resist, really.

“What’s really different about this is it’s not like a typical overall project where we come up with an idea, and develop a scope of work, and then do design drawings, and then bid it out,” he added. “I mean this one was more a ready-fire-aim kind of project, you know, because we had to get going from Day 1 — and we didn’t have a drawing on a napkin, even.

“So we’ve been designing one step ahead of the actual construction. And I would say for the first few months it probably looked more like a demolition zone, whereas now it looks more like a construction zone on the second floor. Every day there’s a little bit more progress.

“The big challenge is doing it while trying to keep a fully operational facility. It is huge, but I think we’ve done well and we really haven’t had a lot of complaints — I think the community has been very understanding.”

The airport has stayed busy, with a total of  more than 1.4 million passengers traveling through COS in the first 10 months of 2018 — a 6.4 percent increase in total passenger traffic compared to the same period in 2017, according to the airport’s November enplanement report.

“Although monthly traffic decreased 21.7 percent when compared to last year, year-to-date enplanements show sustained growth,” a release from COS said.

“The short-term picture is that our numbers from October 2018 over October 2017 were down,” Phillips told the Business Journal.

“But if you look at the bigger picture, in 2015 we hit our low at just under 600,000 enplanements, then in 2016 we grew by almost 11 percent and in 2017 we grew by 24-plus percent. … We’ve already grown more than 35 percent in a two-year period. That’s something that’s just not sustainable — our population isn’t growing that fast. “We knew we’d added a whole bunch of flights, that had a significant impact … but unless we added even more flights and even more flights on top of that, that wasn’t going to continue. So it’s going to have to stabilize. And that’s what we’re seeing right now.

We are going to finish up on the year by somewhere between 3 and 6 percent [passenger growth], and then we’ll look to 2019.”

Some of the most exciting things going on at the airport are not on the commercial side, Phillips said.

Sierra Nevada Corp.’s newest 60,000-square-foot hangar is expected to be complete around February, he said, and the National Museum of WWII Aviation has broken ground on a 40,000-square-foot expansion.

Peak Innovation Park is also poised for a burst of progress; this year saw Urban Frontier selected as master developer for the 900-acre business park at the entrance to the airport.

The site is zoned for multiple uses, including office, retail, industrial, entertainment, business, recreation and residential. This year brought development of a draft master concept plan and marketing materials for Peak Innovation Park, and brokers Cushman & Wakefield began working with Urban Frontier to drive activity there.

Urban Frontier managing partner Garrett Baum expects to see a mix of uses along both sides of Milton Proby Parkway, and a valuable synergy with future housing development at the adjacent Banning-Lewis Ranch.

Securing a key tenant for the business park is expected to start the ball rolling on development all around the airport, and Phillips said there’s a lot going on behind the scenes — although he won’t give details or names at this point.

“Because we’re negotiating with private potential tenants, we have to respect their request and their need for confidentiality in their business dealings,” he said.

“But absolutely, I would say that 2019 is going to be a year to remember here — for the airport and for the community.

“This is all about economic development for our community and we’re proud to be part of that, and it’s also about economic development that helps keep our costs down at the airport. It helps in rainy days when an airline does pull back on service, and it helps us in the high months and years as well, by giving us revenue that we can continue to do improvements at the airport itself, making it better, more efficient, and continually making efforts to enhance safety at the airport. This is all really good stuff.”

“We’re very excited about what can happen at the business park,” Phillips said. “If everything comes together, we’re going to see quite a bit of activity in 2019.”