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The most important item on the City of Columbia’s “to-do” list of municipal projects is the construction and development of a new terminal facility at Columbia Regional Airport. With the University of Missouri faced with unprecedented enrollment declines — tantamount to a major factory closing — the overall significance and promotion of COU as a tool for economic development has become more important than ever. Parsons Brinckerhoff has outlined its proposal for a passenger terminal with four jetways at the northwest corner of the airport that would cost about $38 million. With the city’s 80-year airport ownership history in mind, the risks are worth taking. The airport as a passenger gateway is absolutely necessary if both the city and the region that surrounds it expect to survive . . . and thrive.
City Manager Mike Matthes says that slightly more than half the expected cost of the new terminal — about $20 million — would come from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has already signaled its willingness to participate.
Work of a different sort is already in progress at COU: the FAA is doling out millions of dollars for cross-wind runway improvements prior to lengthening the main runway from 6,500 feet to 8,000 feet.
For the terminal itself, the city has to come up with the balance ($18 million) before work can proceed. This would most likely come from the sale of tax-exempt municipal bonds, collateralized by increasing the lodging, or “bed,” tax from four to five percent.
Never say anything is easy in our fair city . . . because it never is.
Incredibly, there are individuals — all of whom should know better — who are either lukewarm to the terminal project or stalwartly opposed to increasing the bed tax to make the sale of bonds a feasible proposition in order to finance it.
One can give the novice mayor a pass as a newcomer to office because his apparent lack of enthusiasm appears to be based on the notion that the missing $18 million may be sprung upon us as gifts by such-and-such city, town, county, maybe even the state of Missouri.
But the real wrath is reserved for a cabal of lodging proprietors who naively believe that hiking the bed tax from $4 to $5 per hundred spent would drive prospective visitors away from Columbia to some nearby burg (insert your favorite city here). As lodging rates are adjusted based on supply and demand, the effect of this marginal increase in the bed tax — one percent — is a certifiable point of infinite mootness. If approved, Columbia’s bed tax would match the rate in Jefferson City, which is two percent less than the rate visitors are charged in both St. Louis and Kansas City.
Apart from the overburdened network of highways, Columbia Regional Airport is the only other viable gateway in and out of the region. A new state-of-the-art passenger terminal now seems within grasp. To those who oppose the terminal project, you are acting like impertinent children — dunces amongst us when it comes to advancing airline passenger service with the prospects of new destination options for our historically underappreciated little flying field. Gotta build it. We simply have to build the new passenger terminal at COU because it’s an economic development issue of paramount importance.