The Myrtle Beach International Airport expansion hit the road to reality Thursday as the final plan review received the blessing of the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board.
The panel unanimously approved the revised plan, which incorporated all of the board's earlier suggestions, said Larry Bragg, chairman of the appearance board.
"It's a magnificent plan," Bragg said.
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"It's exciting, classic, and I don't see this being dated in 20 years."
The board's reaction has been much more favorable to the county than it was in its first attempt to expand the airport. The CAB denied the plan submitted in 2007, because it called for an additional building on the west side of the runways, a decision that cost the county millions in planning and design work.
The airport is owned and operated by Horry County, but because it is located inside city limits, the appearance board had to approve the external appearance and design, which will be built by M.B. Kahn Construction Co.
"We took your comments to heart," said Rick Ott, senior executive vice president of M.B. Kahn, at the start of the presentation.
"Through efforts with the CAB, this is a far better project than what we originally conceived."
Ott said he hopes to start some site work in about a month, and that the bulk of the work would be bid out in the fall.
He said it would take about three years to complete the project, with two years for the new build and one year to renovate the existing terminal.
Construction won't begin until the Federal Aviation Administration approves the airport layout plan, said John Weaver, interim Horry County administrator.
Once the FAA approves the plan, it will push the funding process forward for several grants, which has also been a stalling point for construction.
"The [Horry County] Council has agreed that until all money is in the bank or is assured, we will not begin the project so that we are not going to find ourselves in a position where we get the building halfway done," Weaver said. "We may not do it all at one time, but we are not going to do anything until we get all of the money.
"There are grant applications and congressional earmarks that we have sought. We are subject to the national political scene in terms of a time frame."
Weaver said one of the first phases of the project will be Harrelson Boulevard, because it will provide important mobility for residents between U.S. 17 Bypass and U.S. 17 Business once several other construction projects begin.
"We cannot get a building permit until all the plans for the inside are completed as well as the outside.
"Those plans will be completed in the early summer ... if I am not mistaken," Weaver said.
The airport expansion plan includes a new entrance gate for incoming traffic from Harrelson Boulevard. Visitors will enter and make a loop to various drop-off points.
There will be employee and service entrances at Highway 15 and Harrelson Boulevard, Ott said.
The plan calls for 277 parking spots, more than the required 244, and 62 spots for the handicapped. Accent panels will unify the buildings and feature coastal tones that change with the light in blues, greens and violets.
A three-color scheme of copper metallic tones will be used on canopies and the air side of the terminal.
"The first impression we want as visitors are flying in is [that the air side] can be as dramatic as the other side," Bragg said.
Landscaping will feature grasses, saw palms and palmettos, along with cherry trees, crepe myrtles and magnolias in strategic areas, along with a host of specialty plants to ensure something will be featured year-round.
Signage and lighting plans, including stoplights, will be brought back to the appearance board, probably in June, Ott said.
Bragg said the expansion will complement the current terminal, and the fact that there will be a tremendous impact on jobs is an extra bonus.
"It's a very great day for Myrtle Beach," Bragg said.
"I think it's a home run, I think it's an historic day, and we'll have an icon for all to be proud of."
Staff writer Claudia Lauer contributed to this report.