McALLEN — The City Commission cemented plans to expand McAllen-Miller International Airport on Monday, unanimously voting to hire a Victoria-based construction company and agreeing to issue certificates of obligation to finance the project.
In all, McAllen has budgeted nearly $23.5 million to expand McAllen-Miller’s terminal and make other improvements to Hidalgo County’s primary airport. Construction is expected to begin in February or March and take nearly two years.
Last summer, McAllen had considered a 95,000-square-foot expansion with a $57.3 million price tag, according to an analysis by URS Corporation, a San Francisco-based engineering and construction firm. That plan, based on pre-recession passenger data, was scaled back earlier this year.
The less ambitious project will expand McAllen-Miller’s cramped post-security seating area with a 55,000-square-foot addition and increase the number of gates from five to six.
Travelers who fly during peak hours — especially in the summer, when Allegiant joins Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines and American Airlines at the terminal — occasionally find themselves in a standing-room-only crowd outside the gate.
“Because of the nature of the business, the airlines like to leave an airport at the same time so they can get to their hubs and connect their passengers at the same time,” said Phil Brown, McAllen’s director of aviation.
Typically, airports have 80 to 100 seats outside every gate, Brown said. At McAllen-Miller, Gate 3 and Gate 5 have just 40 seats between them.
McAllen also plans to transform the food court into office space for the Transportation Security Administration and expand the security screening area into what’s now seating for Gate 1.
The expansion project will also eliminate McAllen-Miller’s sleepy post-security bar and snack stand. Brown said the airport hasn’t settled on a new plan for post-security concessions, but said he’d like to see a coffee shop inside the expanded terminal.
McAllen plans to partially fund the airport expansion with certificates of obligation, which have been rated AA+ by Fitch Ratings and are expected to sell at a par value of $9.8 million. The certificates will be repaid using proceeds from the $4.50 passenger facility charge paid by all departing travelers. McAllen-Miller increased the charge from $3 to $4.50, the maximum allowed by the Federal Aviation Administration, on June 1.
A $5.4 million TSA grant, nearly $4.4 million in city cash and $4.1 million from the FAA have also been committed to the airport expansion.
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4452.
Follow Dave Hendricks on Twitter: @dmhj