City approves MHK airport parking design contract

The design process will begin for a project to increase Manhattan Regional Airport’s parking capacity.

The Manhattan City Commission authorized a design contract Tuesday as well as the future issuance of general obligation bonds to finance the project with a 4-1 vote.

Before voting against it, Mayor Linda Morse said she supports proceeding with the design, but she didn’t want to commit at this time to issuing bonds.

“Quite frankly, the big hurdle for me is causing our citizens to have to pay a parking fee,” she said. “I think that is a real draw for our airport and (free parking) gets people to fly from here.”

Manhattan Regional currently provides free parking, but parking fees are expected to pay for the bonds associated with the improvements.

Olsson Associates of Manhattan received a $410,474 contract with the city to design the $4.5 million project.

The plan also calls for phasing with an initial $3.28 million proposal for parking improvements, which would include adding paved parking, expansion and fixing damaged asphalt.

The project would increase the total parking stalls from 624 to 781. This doesn’t include the creation of a new gravel lot in the southwest corner of the airport.

Based on the timeline from officials, the parking improvements would be completed in 2019 with parking fees starting in late 2020 or early 2021.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said user fees should pay for the improvements rather than taxpayer revenue.

“If we approve this, we’re going to have paid parking at some point,” he said.

Romo said other airports about the size of Manhattan that charge for parking include Abilene, Texas, Chippewa Valley in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Rockford, Illinois.

Abilene charges $9 a day, Chippewa Valley charges $5 per day, and Rockford charges $7 per day.

Assuming there’s a 15-year bond, the city will have to make debt payments of $434,000 a year for the project.

Officials estimate parking fees could generate $463,584 a year if the fee is set at $4 per day, although this is a rough estimate.

Romo said the revenue estimate is based on a parking stall count from October 2016 through September 2017. He said an official study would be done by Walker Parking Consultants during the design process.

Commissioners said they would want more information about how adding parking fees would change customer behavior.

Commissioner Mike Dodson said the city might not need to finish the entire $4.5 million project right away if parking fees deter people from using the airport.

With a fee, commissioner Usha Reddi said people are more likely to have someone drop them off if they are going on a trip that’s longer than a week.

She said this is particularly something that could happen for local people who are near the airport. “It’s easy to drop them off,” she said.

The capital projects include $1.665 million for the Denison Avenue and Marlatt Avenue roadway expansion, $1 million to replace windows and improve the sanitary sewer at the Manhattan Housing Authority’s Apartment Towers at 300 N. Fifth St., and $645,000 for stormwater improvements and a multi-use trail project as a part of phase 5 of the Old Big Blue River beautification project.

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Nikki Bolton