Keeping pace with growing airport use has been a high priority for the Port of Bellingham, and this year we completed a $38.6 million terminal expansion project that allows the facility to meet both current and future passenger demand. Now the airport is looking forward, to plan for smart growth into the future by updating our airport master plan, and looking back at the successful completion of this multi-year terminal expansion project. We are planning events for our Whatcom County citizens to explain both the master plan process and to "show off" our recently completed airport expansion.
The airport's master plan is a comprehensive study, required by the Federal Aviation Administration, which provides a guiding framework for future growth and development. The port is about halfway through the process of updating the master plan, and we welcome comments and feedback from the public. We have set up a special section of our website specifically on the master planning process, created an online public comment form, and will host a public meeting from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on May 28 to update the community on where we are in the planning process. Citizens can access all this information in one place at portofbellingham.com/airportmasterplan.
The recently completed commercial terminal expansion project is one of the largest projects the port has ever undertaken, and we want to invite the community to come see the finished facility at a public open house from noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 19. Airport management staff will provide 30-minute walking tours of the new facility and discuss its construction and planned use. Because the airport is a secure facility, the walking tour will only encompass the public areas of the commercial terminal facility. Advanced reservations are required due to space availability. Bring your questions and re-discover the convenience of air travel out of BLI. More information and reservation instructions are available on our website at portofbellingham.com/AirportTours.
The port is fiscally responsible for maintaining the airport and is responsive to air transportation needs, that's why this multi-million dollar expansion project was paid for with airport passenger facility charges (user fees), not tax dollars. Users of the airport finance the amenities and services they receive, not Whatcom County taxpayers. This project also finished seven percent under budget, which amounts to a savings of around $2.7 million.
So, what has this expansion brought to the airport? We've added a new and expanded gate lobby with five boarding gates and two baggage-claim carousels. Seating capacity was increased by 646 seats by creating an additional 11,000-plus square feet of space. Behind-the-scenes baggage handling was improved by adding a conveyer belt system that greatly improved how checked baggage is routed through the airport. The new baggage handling system incorporates energy-saving technology while providing intermodal flexibility to meet future demands. New ticket counters were constructed that allow for more room for our airlines and passengers they serve. We've also added more food and dining options for airport users. Scotty Browns social house and restaurant is a new, full-service restaurant and bar located in the secure boarding gate area. Halibut Henry's gifts and cafe has expanded their two locations inside of the airport.
We've made numerous smart investments during this renovation to conserve energy and reduce the terminal's environmental footprint. Lights near windows have photoelectric controls so on sunny days sensors will turn off these internal lights when they are not needed, then switch them on again as the light outside dims. We've added a trash compactor that has reduced the volume of waste and the number of garbage collection trips from three per week to one trip every two weeks. These are just a two of many examples of how we have integrated green concepts and energy-saving features into the new terminal and facility.
The airport has seen dramatic growth in the last few years, from 454,500 annual passengers in 2008 to more than 1.1 million passengers in 2013. Your county-wide port district knows that when we invest in the airport, we are investing in economic development for Whatcom County. Spending by airport visitors is up 230 percent in the last five years, or $49.1 million. Visitors are staying longer and spending more in our community every year. Business activity at the airport, including commercial airlines, general aviation and pilot services, air freight transportation and ground handling of aircraft, account for over 700 local jobs.
Our Bellingham airport is a vital part of our economy and we will continue to work with the community to make sure growth meets our community's needs both now and in the future. We hope to see you at the airport's open house on July 19 so you can see some of these improvements for yourself.
More on airport planning is online at portofbellingham.com/airportmasterplan. The port will host a public meeting from 5:30-7:30 p.m. May 28 to update the community on plans.
The port will host a public open house of the terminal expansion from noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 19. Go online to portofbellingham.com/AirportTours to sign up for a 30-minute tour during the open house.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Zenk is the aviation director for the Port of Bellingham.