Architect finds east terminal feasible

A secondary airport terminal on the east side of Myrtle Beach International Airport is feasible and could cost between $83 million and $98 million to build, an architect told an airport committee Monday.

That's about half of the $182 million construction price of a nixed plan for a new terminal on the west side of the runway.

"There's a lot of options that are open," said the architect, Larry Timbes, who designed the current terminal in 1976 and helped with expansions. "Yes, we can use the existing terminal. Yes, we can expand it."

At the request of two Horry County Council members, Timbes put together a free presentation for the ad hoc committee, which is made up of local elected officials and business community representatives.

It was the second meeting for the group, formed after a plan for a new $229 million terminal collapsed after an appointed city board rejected the project. That price included financing costs.

The prime debate was over whether a new terminal should be built on the west side of the runway or whether the current one should be expanded on the east side.

An Horry County-commissioned study looked at seven options - six on the east side and one on the west - and concluded that starting fresh was the best plan.

Members of the Myrtle Beach City Council have said they did not like the idea, despite a 2004 city-county agreement indicating that the terminal would be on the west side.

All the fighting and grandiose plans were lethal for any hopes of improving the area's air service, said Mike Boyd, head of an aviation industry firm that studied the Myrtle Beach airport for a business consortium.

"Taj [Mahal] terminals and internecine fighting has got to stop," he told the ad hoc committee on Monday. "Airlines begin to question service when the community isn't united around their airport. It's the Rodney King thing - can't we all just get along?"

Boyd presented his study and urged committee members to think of Myrtle Beach as a product, not a destination.

"What we're trying to do is meet the nation's need to get to Myrtle Beach," he said. "And let them know they have that need."

Though he said the terminal should be constructed at as low cost as possible, it needs to be a place where passengers - especially golfers - can get in and out quickly, without hassle.

"You gotta make it so that when there is that mid-morning rush, people get through it without feeling like they just went through Ellis Island," he said. "You can't afford to tick these people off. ... Your future is tied to people swinging clubs and losing balls."

At the same time, he said, the airport needs to keep costs down for airlines.

Timbes calculated the cost for an additional terminal by using a price of $300 per square foot for an 180,000-square-foot facility, plus parking improvements, renovations for the current terminal and other costs.

Landing fees, the price airlines pay to operate at an airport, have been a contentious topic.

A county expert has said they did not matter as much as some in the business community insisted they did.

Boyd said that while high fees can deter airlines from providing service to a destination, low fees will not necessarily entice them.

The group next meets with representatives from the airport at the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. That meeting will be at 10 a.m. July 17.