Myrtle Beach airport sets date for new terminal to open

dbryant@thesunnews.comFebruary 25, 2013 

Myrtle Beach’s new airport terminal is scheduled to open April 2 after a six-week delay, creating a new first impression for what officials hope will be a growing number of visitors flying into the Grand Strand.

Crews are putting the finishing touches on the new 274,000-square-foot terminal, which will house new gates, more remote check-in kiosks for passengers and new restaurants for the airport including Nacho Hippo and Steak ‘n’ Shake. The terminal is expected to receive a certificate of occupancy by March 19.

“Everything is done. They are working on the little stuff,” airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said. “It’s definitely exciting. It’s going to be a nice way to welcome people to Myrtle Beach.”

The $118 million terminal was originally scheduled to open Feb. 19, but was delayed because of glitches with the delivery of some construction materials after Hurricane Sandy. Though officials had aimed to open before spring tourism heated up, golf promoters and Horry County leaders have said the six-week delay wouldn’t hurt the spring tourism season because visitors could still fly into the current terminal.

“It would have been nice to catch some of the late winter, spring events, but we’ll catch them next year,” Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said.

Horry County, which owns the airport, has been talking about expanding the terminal for more than a decade. Construction began in late 2010 after a lengthy process that included the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board nixing the terminal’s proposed location, sending county leaders back to the drawing board and causing the project to be delayed for several years. Horry County owns the airport, but it’s in the city limits so Myrtle Beach has to sign off on certain aspects of it.

The county came up with the current plan after the Community Appearance Board said building on the west side of the runway as originally proposed could have negative effects on new residents moving into planned neighborhoods on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.

Kruea said the current location of the new terminal is working, especially with the extension of Harrelson Boulevard making it easier to get from the airport to the beach.

“[The new terminal] gives us a new front door for our visitors that fly in,” Kruea said. “Hopefully it will leave a good first impression.”

Several parts of the expansion already have opened, including new parking areas, a standalone rental car building and the airport’s new entrance off the extended portion of Harrelson Boulevard across from Whispering Pines Golf Course.

Also on April 2, the old entrance to the airport, at the intersection of Harrelson Boulevard and Highway 15, will be closed and blocked off to everyone except employees. All drivers must start entering the airport at the new entrance off Harrelson Boulevard across from the golf course.

“Some people are still going the old way,” Lovell said. “Passengers won’t be able to access the terminal that way.”

The expansion wraps up as several new flights have started or are scheduled to start in the coming weeks. Spirit Airlines, US Airways, Delta and Porter Airlines have either added destinations or added frequency of flights to cities they already serve, and Canadian-based WestJet plans to start serving Myrtle Beach on May 2 with flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport.

The additions aim to help make up a 16 percent decline in passenger numbers at the airport last year because of cuts to seat capacity and the loss of Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air, which abruptly stopped flying and filed for bankruptcy in March.

But passengers expecting a new terminal to lure more new airlines will be disappointed. Airport officials have said the line up of flights for this year already is set. And airlines are lured by demand in the market, not how fancy the airport is, airport officials have said.

The departure area in the current terminal will be renovated and modernized to match those in the new terminal, and other parts of the current terminal will be used for offices and storage, Lovell said.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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