A month-old task force appointed by Mayor Steve Bach to develop ways to improve airline service to Colorado Springs is recommending that the airport spend $500,000 to renovate its unused east passenger concourse for use by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and other tenants.

The task force also is backing plans already underway by airport management to build a business center and lounge for business travelers and other frequent fliers, and to refinance the airport's $39 million in debt so it can reduce debt payments made through airline fees.

Task force officials believe the moves will boost the airport's pocketbook, enabling it to lower the fees it charges airlines. In turn, that could help attract more airline service to the city.

"There isn't anything transformational in these (recommendations), but they are good first steps," said Steve Bartolin, a task force member and CEO of The Broadmoor hotel. "If we can increase revenue and lower fees, it will make the airport more attractive to carriers."

The hotel is owned by Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.

TSA, the federal agency that screens passengers and baggage before flights, would lease about one third of the east concourse after renovations are completed early next year, said Neil Ralston, the airport's acting assistant director for planning and development. The agency, which currently leases space in abuilding near Powers Boulevard and Galley Road, began lease discussions with airport officials earlier this summer and has agreed to lease space in the east concourse for 10 years. The lease payments would repay the remodeling costs within three years.

The city acquired the east concourse in 1998 from the bankrupt Western Pacific Airlines for $115,000 in cash and cancellation of $200,000 in fees the carrier owed, and later spent about $1 million to build a connecting hallway to the concourse to the main passenger terminal. The facility has been mothballed since the late 1990s.

The airport wants to spend $233,596 to build the business center and lounge near Gate 6 in the terminal's main passenger concourse. Airport officials are negotiating with its restaurant operator, SSP America, to operate the center and lounge and offer beverage service. The lounge would be packaged with valet parking and access to a premium security screening line for a per-use fee or free to first-class passengers.

The airport's carriers sought the center and lounge to better "retain and attract business travelers," according the recommendation.

The airport is also juggling some buckets of funding to reduce its annual debt payments. It had planned to use reserves to pay for a series of taxiway projects; instead, airport officials plan to use a low-interest loan of up to $10 million from the state to finance them. A $3 per passenger fee that every airport already charges would be used to pay off the loan, which carries a 2.5 percent annual interest rate. Then, the reserves that were to be used for the taxiway projects will instead go to pay off $10 million in airport bonds.

The airport also wants to refinance another $20 million in bonds at a lower interest rate.

The loan and bond refinancing could cut the airport's $5.2 million in debt payments by up to a third.

The task force will present the recommendations Monday to Colorado Springs City Council, said Bill Hybl, chairman of the five-member task force and CEO of the El Pomar Foundation. The council eventually has to approve spending for both the terminal renovation and the lounge construction, and must approve the application to the Colorado State Infrastructure Bank for the loan.

Hybl said the recommendations are just the first set that will emerge from the group, which plans to complete its work by year's end.

The recommendations come two weeks after the city hired Seabury APG, a Reston, Va.-based aviation consulting firm, as a marketing consultant to the airport. Seabury's nine-person team, which includes Quotient Group and D Custom as partners, has already begun work with the task force and airport officials, Hybl said.

Seabury has helped airports across the nation win service from low-fare airlines.


Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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