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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Wheels Up

In the last few months, it’s been difficult for Evansville residents to turn on the local news or scroll through social media without seeing an announcement on a new business project or renovation in the city.

While Downtown bustles with activity, Jacobsville to the north is seeing the progress of street projects. The East Side along North Burkhardt Road and the Interstate 69 interchange continues to see development, as well as the West Side along the Lloyd Expressway.

However, all of these projects are just the beginning.

Plans that are a part of the Regional Cities Initiative are to kick off in 2017, setting off a new wave of development in Evansville and the Tri-State. Leading the charge are the planned terminal renovations to the Evansville Regional Airport (EVV).

Evansville Regional will receive $5 million from the $42 million the Regional Cities Initiative has awarded the Southwest Indiana region. The complete renovation project will total around $12.36 million, says Nate Hahn, director of operations and maintenance at Evansville Regional, with the rest of the funding coming from a combination of sources.

“The $5 million allows us to make sure we are making good financial decisions for the community, which then keeps our rates and charges low for the airlines and makes them happy,” he adds. “A happy airline is an airline that increases service.”

From start to finish, the project will change the overall look of the Evansville Regional Airport, giving in-bound and out-bound passengers an enhanced experience they would expect from bigger airports.

Outside, passengers will see new pavement on roads and parking lots, as well as new landscaping and better walkways. Hahn says the stairs in front of the terminal will be removed for easier access from the parking lot. Covered walkways also will be installed from the building to the parking and rental car lots.

But the biggest changes are going to be inside, says Hahn. New flooring, skylights, and seating, as well as upgrades to ticket counters and the addition of more charging and work stations are planned. The greatest change will come in the form of a centralized security checkpoint. Currently the airport has two separate security checks, with only one open at a time. Plans are to pull them into one, allowing a continuous security operation.

“It allows us to get the most up-to-date security equipment, including the stand-up body imagers,” says Hahn. “It also allows us to have two lanes, with one of those lanes dedicated to travelers who are registered with TSA Pre-Check.”

The central-security point also means repositioning the airport’s restaurant to offer a post-security option, allowing passengers to purchase food and drinks they can then take on the aircraft. Other renovations include restrooms, a mother’s room, and a service animal relief area.

A call for bids on the project is expected in April with construction beginning in the summer.

“The general public is going to see a refurbishment,” says Hahn. “Everything is going to look cleaner, nicer.”

This is not the first round of changes for the airport. Built in 1989, EVV installed jet bridges from the terminal to aircrafts in 2012 and completed work on its primary runway in 2014 to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations. “This new project with Regional Cities is all about the passengers,” says Hahn. “This is the opportunity to come back inside the building.”

“We consider the airport an integral part of economic development in the Tri-State,” adds Doug Joest, executive director of the airport.

Airport officials already were planning renovations to the terminal before Regional Cities was announced, says Hahn. After the 2012 jet bridges additions, officials realized updates would need to be made to the interior. When Joest became part of the conversation about Regional Cities, it made sense to consider including the airport.

“The airport is one of the ‘front doors’ or gateways to our region,” says Joest. “It’s important we have a modern, passenger-friendly facility to welcome visitors here and help our residents get where they want and need to go.”

In December 2015, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Strategic Review Committee announced the distribution of funds from the Regional Cities Initiative to three recipient regions. One of those was the Southwest Region, which encompasses the Evansville metropolitan area. In the April/May 2016 story “On the Move,” Evansville Business detailed the proposed projects of the “Great Life, Great Community, Great Environment, Great People” plan, which would split the $42 million from Regional Cities among 12 projects.

Spearheaded by the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana (EDCSI), projects fall under two different categories — city center and gateway. These developments and renovations are expected to invest more than $926 million in public and private funding into the area.

“Lots of communities do plans. In many cases, like it or not, a lot of really great ideas and plans sit on someone’s shelf,” Greg Wathen, president and CEO of EDCSI, told Evansville Business last year. “This will not and we will do it in less than five years.”

Joest was a member of the committee that worked on the proposal submitted to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. The team met on several occasions, he says, to prepare for the presentation in Indianapolis in 2015.

“It was rewarding in the sense we all got to work together as a team on a project that will have a great impact on our region,” he says. “We were all pulling for a common goal and ultimately achieved it.”

Currently, Evansville Regional Airport offers flights with all three remaining legacy carriers — American, Delta, and United. These airlines fly to five top-rated hubs — Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Dallas; and Detroit — which offer opportunities for passengers to go anywhere in the world. The recently added Allegiant service that flies non-stop to Orlando-Sanford has performed well, says Leslie Fella, director of marketing and air service development.

“According to Allegiant, we’re performing as a mature market, instead of as the start-up market that we are,” says Fella. “Most of the time in the industry, airlines don’t see that as soon as they get started.”

The success of the airport also recently prompted American Airlines to upgrade its Dallas service with the larger CRJ-900 aircraft, which offers nine first-class seats and 76 total seats.

These successes combined with the new renovations are expected to open new doors — and flights — for the airport and its passengers.

“This project is our attempt at giving back to our passengers and community and making this a world-class airport,” says Hahn. “You don’t have to be an international airport to be world-class.” 

For more information about the Evansville Regional Airport, call 812-421-4401 or visit flyevv.com.

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