By Lethbridge Herald on February 4, 2020.
Lethbridge city council received more confirmation from consultants Modalis Infrastructure Partners Inc. that the City is on the right track with its proposed upgrades and expansions to the airport.
“You have good fundamentals,” stated Modalis Infrastructure Partners Inc. president and CEO Curtis Grad. “You have good, strong traffic growth you have seen with both Air Canada and WestJet. It’s not as seasonal as you see at a lot of other airports. There’s a good base, but a place to grow.”
Grad told council during Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting that its top two priorities should be the replacement of the 40-year-old airport ground lighting system, which is getting harder and harder to upkeep, and necessary upgrades to the terminal building itself to make it more passenger, business and airline friendly.
Grad also warned council that as it seeks to develop the airport and the land-base around the airport it has to be cautious in ensuring it sets up the airport for long-term success rather than just trying to score more revenue now in any way it can.
“There is always a balancing act with airports,” stated Grad. “If there is a development opportunity at the airport that isn’t fitting the long-term strategy of the airport, but it’s a five-year lease and provides some sort of turnover in revenue — it would be something you would consider. But you might think twice about a 40-year lease for something that could be built across the road.”
Grad said council should think of runway access as being akin to something like waterfront property development in other cities.
“You only have so much waterfront,” he explained, “and in the case of an airport your waterfront is runway access. So the balancing act is short-term for uses that aren’t ideally aligned with the airport, and longer-term leases for activity that needs to be at the airport.”
City of Lethbridge manager of real estate and land development Michael Kelly said the consultants had provided good information and lots of food for thought.
“There is tremendous opportunity,” stated Kelly when asked about his biggest takeaways from Monday’s presentation; “as the consultants indicated we have a sleeping beauty out there, both from other revenue generation that comes in and from the land development component. We want to stabilize things (revenue-wise) for the airport and make sure it’s there for a long, long time.”
Kelly said building in resilience and flexibility would be key to airport development, along with organic growth.
“We have seen a few airlines come in and out over time,” explained Kelly as an example of needing flexibility. “As a young fella, I still remember Time Air being here. But they either get swallowed up or they fade away and their models go different directions — or, as indicated, they could go bankrupt. The most important thing is we are ready, we have data and information available that would go until the next potential carrier hears an opportunity.”
Kelly said the City was conscious of the need to develop the land around the airport responsibly and in a way which fosters the future growth of the airport and the city itself.
“It’s like any land development,” he said. “The City is involved with residential, commercial and industrial land development, and it’s not good just to overload one thing. One good example is commercial. We have quite a large vacancy of square footage in Lethbridge. To add to that square footage (at the airport) is taking away the opportunity for somewhere else … We always have to be looking forward. We’re not talking five years; we’re talking 30 or 50 years out.”
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