TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — By accepting a $14.2 million grant from New York State, Tompkins County has officially taken on the responsibility of expanding the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.
The total cost of the project will be about $24 million, and the airport and county are now responsible for finding a way to cover the rest of the cost.
Tompkins County legislators voted unanimously in favor of accepting the grant Tuesday.
Plans to expand the airport have been a long time in the making, as the airport has not been updated in decades. At the end of the project, the airport will nearly double in size.
Along with accepting the funding, the county is required to meet a list of project requirements. Some of the requirements include:
- Expanding the existing terminal by one-third
- Replacing obsolete mechanical, electrical and HVAC systems
- Enhancing security to more efficiently meet post 9/11 requirements
- Modernizing passenger amenities
- Constructing solar-covered parking
- Constructing a federal customs inspection station
Airport Manager Mike Hall said the grant process began about two years ago. In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Ithaca to announce that Tompkins County would receive funding as part of the Upstate Airport Economic Development and Revitalization Competition.
“Ithaca provides a regional economic growth center, and it spins off economic activity for the region,” Cuomo said at the press conference. “It is playing more and more of a role on the global scale, and people are coming from all over the world – let’s make it easy for them to get here, and make it a pleasant experience.”
The project is expected to move fast from this point, finishing by 2019. The airport will remain open during the project.
With the state providing $14.2 million and the total project costing $24.7 million, the question now is how the county will fund the rest.
In a presentation Tuesday to Tompkins County Legislature, Hall said $2.5 million is already committed to the project through $500,000 in airport fund balance and a $2 million federal grant, that leaves the county with a roughly $8 million difference.
Hall said the airport has been identifying possible grants and funding sources to come up with the difference, including possible grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, NYSEG and NYPA. In the best case scenario, there could be enough grant funding to wind up with $2.5 million more than needed. In the worst case scenario, the county will be obligated to pay $8 million.
“My commitment is that we will be back to you … as this whole thing unfolds,” Hall said.
As a result of the project, Hall said he expects airport revenue to go up. As part of the project, the airport is planning to install geothermal technology to heat and cool the airport and back it up with solar power and battery storage. Hall said he expects that to save $50,000 in operating costs per year.
Other changes at the airport will be coming soon. The Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport is discontinuing its Newark service and beginning service to Washington, D.C., in October. There will be a twice daily option to begin, but Hall said he hopes with enough interest, the service will go up to four times per day.
As an alternative to losing flight service to Newark, there is the possibility of a secure bus that would take travelers who have gone through security in Ithaca straight to Newark.
Featured image: Rendering of some of the planned expansion. Provided photo.