Airport director dicusses renovations, economic impact

Nick Stroman

A presentation on construction plans for the renovation of the Greater Peoria Regional Airport served as the highlight of the Sept. 16 meeting of the Peoria Heights Village Board.

Airport director Ken Spirito said when a 2009 study is released, it will show the Peoria airport has a half billion dollar economic impact on the central Illinois area.

Spirito added the study will also show Peoria as the No. 2-ranked airport, behind Chicago O’Hare International.

“Our all-time record of passenger history was 550,000 and we will move past it easily this year at probably 600,000,” Spirito said, adding they would have surpassed the number in 2007 but there were many weather-related cancellations.

Spirito said O’Hare is their biggest competitor with an estimated 600 people each day driving to Chicago for flights, taking business away from Peoria.

“We would love to catch them, but the airline industry is in trouble and sometimes you don’t have the capacity to meet demand,” Spirito said.

Spirito said the airport is the biggest economic development tool in the community and much of that is due to affordability and accessibility.

He said last time he gave a presentation to the village board, the airport had five destinations and now it has nine: Detroit, Orlando, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta and Minneapolis.

“We were at 11, but had to drop two destinations because of the rising cost of fuel,” Spirito said.

Spirito told the board he hopes the renovation plans for the airport, with construction starting Sept. 23, will double the passenger numbers.

The two-year project will include demolition of the existing terminal building to construct a new terminal, giving the airport a modern feel with double the ceiling height and new gates, jet bridges and a faster baggage claim system.

“Passengers will have their bags within seven and a half minutes of stepping off the plane,” Spirito said.

A public groundbreaking will be at 11 a.m. Oct. 10 where a new airport name, Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport, could be revealed.

The Metropolitan Airport Authority’s board of commissioners still must vote on the name change.

Downing, who died in 2007, was a retired four-star general and native of Peoria.

Following the 9-11 attacks, he was chosen by President George Bush to serve as the commander of the nation’s Special Forces on counterterrorism.

Ross Perot, a friend of Downing’s, is scheduled to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Spirito said the renovations will cost nearly $65 million, with most of the funds coming from revenue bonds.

“In those two years, we estimate it will also create construction jobs and vibrancy for the local economy,” Spirito added.

In other action and discussion:

• The board approved the placement of a street light near 1518 Clayton Avenue, with the condition of a petition to be drafted by neighbors in favor of it.

CILCO requested an $85 fee from the village board for placement of the pole.

• The board approved a bid of $9,999 from C&G Concrete Construction of East Peoria for the Prospect Road and Duryea enhancement project.

Renovations will include removal of timber plant boxes and vegetative area, new tree installations and updates to the concrete and sidewalk.

• The board approved a payment of $59,732.60 to Illinois Civil Contractors of East Peoria for 2008 curb and sidewalk replacement.

• The board approved the first of two payments of $29,500 to Krumholz Bros. Landscaping of Peoria for a landscaping and retaining wall project near the BP gas station on Prospect.

• The board approved a special use permit for Affordable Auto Sales on North Vincent.

• Village clerk Shauna Musselman said people can start circulating petitions if they plan on running for political office.

Petitions can be picked up at the village hall or printed from the board of elections Web site.

• Mayor Mark Allen presented a plaque to David Drake from Fidelity On Call for their gold sponsorship of the Tower Park Music Fest.

Alwan & Sons and Kemp Manufacturing were not present, but received silver sponsorship plaques.

• Village administrator Tom Horstmann announced plans for Duryea Days in October in Heritage Square and Tower Park.

The event will include a classic and antique car cruise-in at the park from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, the square and park will feature a parade of the classic cars, crafts, collectibles and food vendors.