Passenger numbers dipped in 2019, but with construction taking off in and around Colorado Springs Airport, Director of Aviation Greg Phillips sees it as a good year.

Overall enplanement numbers will likely be down about 1.5-2 percent when final numbers are tallied at year’s end, about 25,000-30,000 fewer than in 2018.

But following years of substantial growth — and with some airlines cutting flight numbers out of Colorado Springs — Phillips thinks the slight drop marks the stabilization of enplanement trends.

“We’ve held our ground,” he said. “In 2015 we had just under 600,000 enplanements and since that time we’ve grown more than 40 percent. So it’s been pretty explosive growth, particularly in 2017 and 2018.

“And the challenge with that is that when you have that much growth, can you maintain that? Is it a blip on the screen? Or is it something we expect we can maintain? And that’s really up to the community.

“If the community uses the service then it will continue to go on. If airplanes are leaving half empty, then they’re not going to stay. So that’s what’s been really exciting in 2018 and 2019, is that the community has sort of accepted these new flights and has filled the airplanes.”

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POST-BLAZE RENOVATIONS

It was a banner year for capital improvements at the airport: In September, COS kicked off the third and final phase of its post-fire rebuild and modernization.

“It’s been a lengthy process,” Phillips said.

“But the silver lining from all the pain that was the fire itself, is that there’s been considerable upgrades to the terminal, all on the public side.”

It’s coming up on two years since a construction crew accidentally sparked the massive rooftop blaze that halted flights for a day and left millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

A terminal modernization program —  already in the works before the fire — was brought forward after the disaster to coincide with the recovery work.

Renovations on the third floor of the terminal were completed in 2018, and second-floor renovations largely wrapped up in April 2019.

Construction on the first floor — which includes new flooring, LED lighting, higher ceilings and updated restrooms — is slated for completion in spring 2020, about a year later than originally projected.

New escalators are also being installed as part of COS’ Capital Improvement Project; so far, two are in operation.

Phillips said bringing forward the terminal modernization plans meant great cost savings for the airport.

“The beauty of the project is that the insurance proceeds covered essentially all of the remodel work,” he said. “And because as part of the remodel we were upgrading, we did upgrades for about 50 cents on the dollar — if not better than that. The total cost of the remodel itself is about $10 million, and that includes the upgrades that we’ve done. And we got $8.8 million in insurance proceeds, so we’ve been able to do pretty well.”

Phillips pointed to growth in other sectors of airport business as well.

The facility completed a 276-acre expansion with its military tenant Peterson Air Force Base earlier this year.

Sierra Nevada Corporation, which opened a 60,000-square-foot hangar in 2018, built and opened another 60,000-square-foot hangar in 2019.

The National Museum of WWII Aviation is also working on a 40,000-square-foot expansion.

PEAK INNOVATION

Peak Innovation Park — a 900-acre business park near the entrance to the airport — saw big changes in 2019.

Amazon opened its 66,780-square-foot last-mile delivery center in the park’s southwest corner, and master developer Urban Frontier is designing parks, open spaces and trails, complete with Wi-Fi kiosks so that business park employees can connect with work while outside the office.

“As we continue to work, we have a number of other prospects right now that are very interested,” said Garrett Baum, managing partner for Urban Frontier.

“And what they’re telling us is they want amenities, they want retail, they want restaurants, they want convenience. And we’re working to get all of those things now.”

Baum said multiple businesses have expressed interest in joining the park complex, with some deals likely to be signed in the next few months.

“I can tell you we’re in discussion with a couple of restaurants; we have a convenience store that we’re also in dialogue with. We’re working on hospitality and we are moving forward with hotels,” Baum said.

The hotels — Courtyard by Marriott and a Residence Inn — are slated for a 6-acre site not far from Northrop Grumman and The Aerospace Corporation, which are already tenants in the northern half of the park.

Based on timelines for business parks in the Denver-metropolitan area, Baum said developers initially anticipated a 25-30 year buildout for Peak Innovation Park. But with the first new structure going up in 2019, it’s ahead of schedule.

“We weren’t expecting to have buildings up as soon as we have,” Baum said. “It was sort of a 5-year plan to go through the planning and engineering process and get everything ready. And a couple of years in, we already have an existing building and more coming soon.

“So for us, 2018 and 2019 have been great years. 2018 was primarily planning and negotiating some deals, and in 2019 we’ve seen that vision come true. So we’re ahead of schedule and we’re as pleased as can be with how things have transpired.”