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Commissioners approve up to $275 million in bonds for airport expansion

Bonding to finance $331.6 million project at Southwest Florida International Airport

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 30, 2021

A planned $331.6 million terminal expansion project by the Lee County Port Authority at the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers will be financed largely through the issuance of bonds approved by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners this past week.

Commissioners approved up to $275 million in bonding unanimously at their most recent meeting.

According to a description of the project provided by Lee County Government, the work to be completed by Manhattan Construction is expected to begin in October and run through 2025.

The project entails 282,385 square feet total area, of which 117,580 square feet is expanded footprint and 164,805 square feet is remodeled space. The scope of work for this project includes constructing a connector between the three existing concourses, consolidating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints into a new 14-lane configuration with space for 2 additional lanes in the future, and providing additional public seating and hold room areas.

The project includes relocation and permanent TSA leased administration space, demolition of existing and construction of new advertising displays, non-public airport administration spaces and a business lounge.

Lee County Port Authority Deputy Executive Director of Development Mark Fisher said Manhattan Construction has awarded 51 contracts for subcontractors to do the project.

Brian McGonagle, Deputy Executive Director for the Lee County Port Authority, said that $244 million worth of 30-year bonds will be issued to pay for most of the project. Airport revenues will pay off the bonds, he said.State funding will also pay for a portion of the work, McGonagle said.

“The neat thing about this project is we will combine into one central checkpoint,” he said.

“We are adding a considerable amount of concession space,” McGonagle said.

“Total concession space now is 39,625 square feet,” McGonagle stated in an email. “When complete we will have (approximately) 58,830 square feet in concession space (a 48% increase),” he stated.

“We have 42 locations now, and the new program will have 37 locations. Several of the new locations will be much larger and more open, including two marches, or large open market food halls, that are nearly 10,000 square feet each and contain multiple concept and brand offerings in one singular location. Several table service locations will also have expanded footprints, allowing for larger menu offerings and additional seating/spacing for customers,” McGonagle’s email stated.

McGonagle said airport visitors will have access to three concourses once the expansion is complete. McGonagle said there will be some new concessions at the airport.

“Some new concepts will be made public over the next year,” he said.

“I thought it was a really great strategy,” Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said. Hamman said putting more of the concessions behind security checkpoints would increase business at the airport. “Our best restaurants and shops are pre-security and so many people walk right past them and they never get a chance to fully enjoy the whole airport,” Hamman said. “It will really change the game for us.”

Commissioner Ray Sandelli said the airport project will help the county “stay on track” with its growth.

According to the county, the terminal expansion project is the largest public works project to be undertaken in Southwest Florida since the construction of the Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC) in 2005.

The expense of the project is due to the size and scope of the work, McGonagle said. “A lot of glass and a lot of steel,” he said.

Business has been busy at the airport this year, rebounding from the worst of the pandemic months last year. McGonagle said the airport broke records this summer. “The summer of 2019 was the busiest. We broke the records (of 2019) by 30-40%,” he said.