Mayor Says Bigger, Better Airport Crucial to Local Economy
December 11, 2015
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  • An airport often leaves visitors with their the first and last impressions of a city. Mayor Javier Gonzales doesn’t want those impressions to be that Santa Fe is insensitive to some of their basic needs.

    “Right now, if you want to use the rest room before you board your flight, you have to go back through security,” he said, noting one of the problems that will be corrected during a remodel of the airport terminal, a building that is now under consideration for landmark status by the city, and eligible for listing on the state and national ledgers of culturally significant and historic structures.

    The city is preparing for takeoff in terms of executing its master plan for the nearly 60-year-old building that almost looks like it could be plopped down in Santa Fe’s historic center.

    It may be one of those only-in-Santa Fe things – while most cities prefer to go with modern flash at their airports, preserving the historic and cultural integrity of Santa Fe’s terminal is a top priority.

    “There is no desire to change the architectural feel or the ambiance it provides, but it’s not functional to accommodate our current needs and the needs in the future,” Gonzales said. “So we’re looking at how we can modify it, but still stay true to the original design of the airport.”

    The mayor has often mentioned the airport as being a key component to the city’s effort to increase economic development, particularly with the film industry. Passenger totals have surged in recent years – the Federal Aviation Administration reports 74,749 “enplanements,” or boardings, at the Santa Fe Municipal Airport in 2014, up 15 percent from the year before.

    The airport, with service to Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth, this fall lost its connection to Hollywood when American Eagle airlines discontinued flights to Los Angeles, although there’s hope that the California flights will resume come the summer of 2016.

    “When you look at any community that’s serious about growing the economy, you see that there are priorities regarding establishing key infrastructure, and airports are on top of that list,” he said. “In Santa Fe, as we diversify our economy, we have to have an airport that is capable of expanding so that we can have flights that go to the Silicon Valley, to Austin, as well as reconnecting with Los Angeles.”

    On Wednesday, the City Council approved a bid of $851,500 from Sarcon Construction to renovate the terminal, the work expected to begin next month and be completed this spring.

    The council also agreed to publish notice for a public hearing on the matter of granting landmark status to the terminal.

    The airport already hosted a public workshop and open house at the airport earlier this month to allow public input on the master plan, designed to outline improvements at the airport for the next 20 years.

    The event came in the wake of criticism that the city wasn’t allowing enough public input into the redesign and plans for expansion at the airport terminal, considered about half the size it needs to be.

    Expansion will come later, however. The bid the City Council awarded on Wednesday is for interior alterations that will make the terminal more efficient. The scope of work includes separating the arrival gate and baggage retrieval room; adding a second departure gate; improving Americans with Disabilities Act access at the front and south entries; renovating an outdoor patio; enlarging the TSA screening area; adding a restaurant service counter; and, of course, adding rest rooms beyond the screening area.

    An airport with ‘style’

    The State Historic Preservation Office in July determined that the Santa Fe Municipal Airport Terminal Building was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The city’s Historic Districts Review Board, known colloquially as the H-Board, recommended it for listing on the city’s own Official Map of Landmark Structures two months later, though the City Council will have the final say.

    St. Catherine’s Indian School, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad depot, and Fairview Cemetery are examples of other sites within the city that have been designated as landmarks.

    To qualify for city landmark status, a site or structure must be about 50 years old or older, embody distinctive characteristics of “a type, period or method of construction” and possess a “high level of historic integrity.” Built in 1957, the terminal appears to meet all the criteria.

    A recent letter to the city from the state Department of Cultural Affairs affirming that the airport terminal is also eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places notes that, while most airports built after World War II were designed in modern styles, “the Santa Fe Airport Terminal is unique because it demonstrates the city’s continued commitment to the Spanish Pueblo Revival style, which began in the first decades of the 20th century.”

    The airport terminal is also considered historically or culturally significant because it incorporates many distinctive elements of “Santa Fe style,” according to the proposed ordinance that would place it on the city’s official map of landmarks. That remains true “despite” minor alterations made when the building was remodeled in 1988. Those alterations did not include battered, or sloping, walls and beveled window openings that were a part of the original structure.

    Other non-historic alterations included replacement doors, a stepped and stuccoed passenger entry arch, metal light fixtures and floodlights, coyote and lattice fences, a storage shed with a pitched roof, and a shade sail in the restaurant courtyard.

    The H-Board determined that some of those features – including the entryway, rental area and lighting conduit – were “not appropriate to the building.” But it indicated that those were things that could be corrected because they were “very easily removable.”

    And, despite those issues, the board determined that the airport terminal still “introduces visitors to the city’s unique style of architecture.”

    The building still possesses many rudiments of Santa Fe style. For example, it contains “room-block massing,” remaining sloped walls and “rounded edges.” The brown-painted woodwork features headers and corbels with carved bullet and rosette details. There’s also a decorative metal railing surrounding the tower catwalk that’s supported by carved wooden corbels.

    “It is a beautiful example of Santa Fe style adapted for an airport, specifically the railing around the tower and corbels underneath,” the H-Board concluded.

    While the H-Board has advocated for designating the terminal a city landmark, the city’s Facilities Division wasn’t initially supportive, fearing granting it status could interfere with future plans.

    But, by the September H-Board meeting, city staff backed off that stance.

    Acknowledging the existence of design features that were “not appropriate” to the building, the board unanimously approved a motion to recommend to the City Council that the terminal be given landmark status at that meeting.

    “We want to fix the errors in a more sensitive way,” Jon Bulthuis, the city’s transportation director, told the board. “We want to improve the function, as well as keep its historic character.”

    Bulthuis said the focus of the first phase of the renovation is on the building’s interior and funding for changes to the exterior currently isn’t available.

    Expansion of the airport will have to come some time. According to the city’s analysis, done in conjunction with airport engineer Molzen Corbin and Coffman Associates, Inc., a national airport planning firm, the airport is already woefully inadequate for current needs.

    The terminal building, which is 9,700 square feet, ought to be 18,600 square feet to meet current usage, and, in the long term, should be nearly triple the current size, according to the study.

    And it’s not just the terminal. Runways, aircraft parking aprons, vehicle parking, maintenance facilities, fuel storage areas and Fixed Base Operator facilities are all addressed in the master plan.

    Hangar space, for example, should be expanded long term from the 181 planes – from small single-engine piston aircraft to larger business jets – it can now accommodate to 235.

    Currently, two commercial airlines operate out of Santa Fe, with American Eagle providing flights to Dallas and United Express flying to Denver.

    Projections are for 120,000 enplanements in the long term. Santa Fe’s mayor said the airport will need to get there in order for its economy to really take off.

    “We live in a city that is internationally recognized, a city that is built on its tourism economy,” Gonzales said. “Next week, we’re going to make a major announcement regarding fiber (optics) that’s important for growing our film economy, particularly in the areas of pre- and post-production. But, in order to do these things, it’s critical that we make those changes and corrections at our airport in order to expand air service, and effectively and efficiently bring people in and out of our city.”