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Ogden officials eye big airport changes to lure passenger airlines; some skeptical

By Tim Vandenack - | Oct 23, 2023
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A sign at a closed gate that leads to the tarmac at Ogden-Hinckley Regional Airport, photographed Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. City officials envision major upgrades at the facility.
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Karen Larrabee, owner of The Bickering Sisters restaurant at Ogden-Hinckley Airport, is eager for proposed terminal upgrades, on hold for now, to proceed. She was photographed Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023.

OGDEN — Big plans to upgrade the terminal at Ogden-Hinckley Airport, a key part of city leaders’ vision of drawing passenger air traffic back to the city, were to have edged forward starting this fall.

However, the original request for proposals to do the work from the city, with a deadline of Oct. 4, faces change and the process is on hold.

“The airport terminal upgrade project scope of work is currently being revised. As such, I am not able to report on any progress,” Brandon Cooper, director of the Ogden Community and Economic Development Department, said in a message to the Standard-Examiner. He didn’t offer a reason for the change of course or an updated timeline but said that bids already submitted will be held.

Whatever the case, if the original request for proposal is any indication, the plans are pretty ambitious. Those plans, to have been completed by 2025 as originally envisioned, had an estimated price tag of perhaps $10 million to $11 million, according to Bryant Garrett, manager of the Ogden airport, though Cooper said that figure is no longer valid.

And whatever the plan particulars end up being, one of the aims is creating a facility that brings in a passenger carrier or two, maybe three. The original terminal design plans now facing revision called for four airline gates, up from one; a waiting area for passengers that could hold 450 people, up from 190; and 30,000 square feet of space in all, up from around 16,000 square feet.

“Passenger service is one of the three major initiatives of the Ogden airport,” Cooper said, the others being commercial operations and general aviation. “Having a clean, safe, functional and accessible terminal is key to successful passenger service.”

Garrett said the city didn’t lose the two carriers that most recently operated here because traffic was low or unprofitable. Most flights, he maintains, were at 85%-90% capacity. Allegiant Air, which flew to Mesa, Arizona, left last year because the operator couldn’t hire enough pilots. Avelo Airlines, which flew to Burbank, California, left Ogden because the firm could make more money elsewhere, he said.

“I believe we’ll be successful getting the airlines back on the outside of 36 months,” Garrett said. Cooper foresees possibilities with routes to “mid-markets” in California and Nevada, among other places.

Such talk and aspirations notwithstanding, Ed McKenney, who’s active in the Ogden Regional Airport Association, has his doubts. He and other users of hangars at the airport have long tussled with city officials, in the courts and elsewhere, over some of their plans at the air facility.

McKenney deems it “highly unlikely the airlines will be back,” citing in part an industry shortage of pilots.

It’s not that he’s against the presence of passenger airlines — he used Allegiant when it operated in Ogden. It’s just that industry trends, particularly the pilot shortage, bode against expansion in certain smaller locales, McKenney believes. “Ogden is just one of many airports that lost airline service,” he said.

In fact, if terminal plans move forward too fast, he sees the facility sitting unused. “That terminal is going to be an echo chamber for any number of years,” he said.

Weber County officials, for their part, indicated in a meeting last June that they’re hesitant, for now, to sign off on the broader airport expansion envisioned in a community reinvestment area focused on the facility. The plan, which Ogden officials approved last June, calls for use of up to $119.32 million in deferred property tax revenue generated by new development in the 837-acre airport area to help pay for certain improvements. Of that, $17 million is funding that would otherwise go to Weber County.

Prior county action approving participation in the community reinvestment area, or CRA, has lapsed, officials said at the meeting, and they indicated they don’t want to get back involved, not quite yet anyway. Ogden leaders have envisioned up to $936 million in airport investment in all over the long haul, also factoring funds from the private sector.

With a new Ogden mayor to be elected in November, Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer said he’d like to wait at least until a new administration takes over. Moreover, the CRA approved in June might be different than an earlier version, and he and other officials said they’d like to parse the differences first.

“We still don’t know what we’re paying for, is what we’re saying,” Froerer said at the June meeting.

Weber County Treasurer John Bond, who also took part in the June meeting, noted interest in airport expansion plans of leaders from nearby cities like Riverdale and Roy. “You have airplanes flying over those cities. They have a right to at least be informed and updated and part of the decision path,” he said.

Froerer echoed that. Residents of Roy and Riverdale have “a lot more to win or lose, particularly lose, with whatever airport expansion than residents of Ogden City, just because of location, I’m talking,” he said.

Some work underway

Either way, improvements are already underway in and around the airport, including installation of new sewer pipes under Airport Road adjacent to the airport. That work, nearly complete, had led to the narrowing of the roadway in recent months — closure, even, of some segments.

Beyond that, the City of Ogden has been overseeing improvements to the west side of the facility, on top of work by one of the private companies occupying space in that area. The work started in 2021 and has a price tag of around $10 million, with funding coming from the state.

“These improvements include grading and drainage, new access, additional roads and taxiways, and utility upgrades,” Cooper said. “These improvements ensure this land is in a developable stage and ‘shovel ready’ for new users.”

Moreover, plans are in the works to build a new air traffic control tower using Federal Aviation Administration money. That work is to start in 2025 and finish in 2027, according to Garrett.

While the terminal plans seem to be in limbo, Karen Larrabee, owner of the Bickering Sisters restaurant at the airport, is eager to see them move forward. New passenger service, moreover, would bring more people, boosting business.

“From what I understand, it’s going to be a really nice new airport that Ogden can be proud of,” she said. “I’m very excited for it.”


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