Airport continues renovations, eyes new revenue sources


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Gerald R. Ford International Airport is in the midst of its $45-million Gateway Transformation renovation, with completion expected in 2018. The GFIA Airport Authority Board also is considering diversifying revenue sources, including “shovel-ready” tracts of land for development.

The project promises to modernize the airport and embed it West Michigan character so visitors immediately get a sense of the community when they arrive, and even travelers who don’t make it downtown to explore the city and its offerings still leave with an idea of “who Grand Rapids is.”

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of West Michigan economic development organization The Right Place and member of the GFIA Airport Authority Board, said the project currently includes $20 million raised within the West Michigan community, which she said is remarkable and speaks to the importance West Michigan businesses place on the airport.

GFIA is an important economic asset in West Michigan.

A 2015 report by Grand Valley State University professors Paul Isely and Gerry Simons said the airport generates $3.1 billion in economic output, “equivalent to 5.8 percent of the Muskegon and Grand Rapids-Wyoming (metropolitan statistical areas).”

The report also tallied $418 million in spending by visitors from outside the region and found that businesses and governmental units located at the airport contribute $212 million directly to the West Michigan economy.

The importance of the airport continues to grow as the region attracts businesses such as data center Switch Ltd., which is expected to generate significant airport use when it is up and running.

The Gateway project kicked off under the leadership of Brian Ryks, former GFIA executive director, who has since left for his new role at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

GFIA is hiring a new executive director who will steer the remainder of the renovation. Klohs said the airport is lining up interviews with the best of more than 40 applicants.

Phillip Johnson, senior vice president, COO and interim executive director, said the new executive director also will work on the airport’s new master plan.

Johnson said all key items have been checked off from the previous master plan, approved in 2004.

The new master plan will guide airport leadership for 20-25 years. It likely will go to the board for approval by the end of 2018.

Klohs said diversifying revenue sources is among GFIA’s priorities in the coming years.

She said there are several “shovel-ready” tracts of land available for non-aeronautical development that the next executive director will be tasked with leasing.

“The board has challenged us to look at that,” she said. “It is something we will be considering in the new master plan.”

GFIA started 2016 on a high note, having just completed a record-breaking year for the number of passengers traveling through the airport.

The airport saw a 9.2 percent increase in passengers in 2015 compared with the previous year. That amounts to an additional 215,000 travelers.

In 2015, 2,550,193 passengers flew in and out of GFIA, compared with 2,335,105 in 2014.

Johnson said he expects 2016 will be another record-breaker.

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