'Isn't it time for a new one?' Lafayette Regional breaks ground on new terminal
Folks "flying Lafayette" could be going through a brand-new, 120,000-square foot terminal in just two years.
Construction on the more than $80 million project is estimated to be complete in 24 months or just after, Lafayette Regional Airport Executive Director Steven Picou said Thursday at a groundbreaking ceremony.
The new structure will replace the existing terminal, which opened Nov. 29, 1930.
"Isn't it time for a new one?" Airport Commission Chairperson Valerie Garrett half-joked with the crowd of commissioners, lawmakers and others gathered where the new terminal will be.
Lafayette taxpayers contributed some $32 million through a temporary 1-cent sales tax in 2015 to provide matching, local funds for construction.
"The city of Lafayette, the people of Lafayette stepped forward to ... a vision of Lafayette as a major city," U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said. "You cannot be a major city without a major airport."
An airport usually is a visitor's first impression of a city, he explained, and approximately 400,000 annual visitors go through Lafayette Regional.
That's 400,000 first impressions, which can impact tourism, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission President and CEO Ben Berthelot said.
"This prepares us for the future," Berthelot said about the new terminal. "As we try to grow our tourism it's important we have a viable airport."
Gov. John Bel Edwards said the infrastructure has to grow as the number of travelers flying Lafayette grows.
"And I know if the state's going to continue to grow as we are right now and to develop opportunity, make sure that we have economic development, investment, job creation, we are going to have to make sure we tend to our transportation/infrastructure needs, and this community is setting a fine example," Edwards said.
Funding for the project also came from the state and federal levels.
Cassidy said those federal dollars will be spent somewhere in the country, and he wants to see them spent in one of his "hometowns."
He and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins spoke on behalf of the federal investment.
"The ports of our state, airports and maritime, are heartbeats of economic growth," U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins said. "... Before we know it Lafayette is going to have the level of first-class airhub that we need, that the future of economic development all of Acadiana can depend upon."
As the governor said, "Two years flies by in a hurry."
Higgins and some of his senior staff met with Picou, Garrett and other officials about this issue.
"I stand in those lines virtually every Monday. ... I'm very familiar with the lines," Higgins said.
They've put together a plan, but it's going to take time to get through all the steps. It's not as simple as "just putting it in another line tomorrow," which isn't an option, he said.
They have to work with airlines, TSA, Homeland Security and more to get authorization for different steps of the process.
"We're going to handle that," Higgins said. "There's a process we have to go through to make that happen."
He said that could take six months, but he hopes to put something more immediate in place to better control the traffic in the mornings.