Airport takes offPublished 8:54pm Wednesday, July 25, 2012
City officials showed off the renovated terminal at Suffolk Executive Airport to a handful of visitors on Wednesday.
Improvements to the terminal were completed in May. Even as guests toured the facility, a work crew outside prepared to begin paving a runway extension that should be ready to open in about a week and a half.
“This is our ‘Visitor Center South,’” said Kevin Hughes, director of Economic Development for the city. “It’s a way to greet our visitors that arrive in the city using the airport.”
The renovations included a separate flight planning and pilot lounge with computers and a television, a more professional feel inside the conference room, and improvements to the restaurant area, customer service desk, lobby and staff areas.
Hughes said the changes are designed to provide a better first impression of the city for people who fly in to the airport and to provide better customer service to visitors and businesses that operate at the airport.
The city is soliciting bids to run the restaurant inside the terminal, Hughes added. The city also worked with Skydive Suffolk, which draws hundreds of customers in a typical week, to route all their foot traffic through the terminal, rather than through a side gate.
“That’s a lot of foot traffic that a restaurant operator could really take advantage of,” he said.
Hughes said the need for the project became obvious last year, when the city was courting a Fortune 500 medical company that was looking at locations in Suffolk and Western Tidewater. The conference room where Hughes got a 30-minute audience with company officials was cramped and outdated, he said.
“Sometimes, 20 or 30 minutes is all you have,” he said. The company wound up expanding its existing facility in North Carolina.
Last year, the city disbanded the appointed airport commission that had been operating the airport and placed it under the purview of Hughes’ department.
Larry Pennington, owner of Skydive Suffolk, lauded the renovations and the new management structure.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. ‘I’ve been here since 1976, and this is the best improvement they’ve done. I think Economic Development being in control has helped the airport dramatically.”
Airport manager Kent Marshall said he has seen positive responses to the renovations from people who use the airport.
“They’ve done a really good job,” he said.
Marshall said paving work began Wednesday morning on the runway extension, following many months of acquiring property and doing preliminary site work.
That project has been in the works since the mid-‘90s, he added. The extended runway is expected to reopen Aug. 4.