Have you ever heard French in the air at the Burlington International Airport? That could be because, according to airport estimates, as many as half the airborne clients are Canadian [Ed. note: like this guy]. Our northern neighbors are very important for the local economy, notes airport director Brian Searles. Last year, he commissioned a local firm to market the Queen City's runway in Quebec.
But now there's a problem: Because Canadians like Burlington's airport so much, Searles tells Seven Days, its parking lot is often full [of vans containing poodles.]. While the airport does offer shuttle service to nearby lots, Searles says, he wouldn't want Canadians to stop coming because they felt inconvenienced.
On January 5, Burlington city councilors approved the airport's request for a $2.4 million bond. According to Searles, the bond will finance preliminary studies of a major parking lot upgrade. The total project, worth $44.7 million, would be completed in stages, he says, depending on how bad the economy gets. At the earliest, new parking would be ready by 2010.
Searles will share more details with councilors at their January 26 meeting. The bond item could be presented to voters in March.
According to Searles, the current proposal includes plans for two new floors (a total of 1400 new parking spaces), a "grass roof," solar panels and maybe some wind turbines. As he told councilors on January 5, airport administrators are pushing the bond — which would come from airport coffers, not the city's general fund — in part because the federal government might underwrite as much as a quarter of project costs. What's more, Searles says, if approved early enough, project engineers could take advantage of temporarily "depressed" prices for construction materials.
Michele Boomhower, executive director of the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization (CCMPO), notes that the feds will soon provide about $3 billion for airport renovations. "From an economic development standpoint, there's a lot of activity that happens at the airport that generates money for Vermonters," says Boomhower. A thousand people work at the airport, she reports, and 70 business and government entities operate on the airport's campus.
Is Searles worried about undertaking such a massive project during a recession? Sure, the bond market can be unpredictable, he concedes, but there's no doubt adding parking spaces for Canadian fliers [and their poodles] is in the city's interests. "We're not building this on speculation," he says of the proposal. "We're building this to take care of a demand that already exists."