LOVELAND — If you build it – they will come. That’s how the City of Loveland feels about a new $25 million airport terminal in hopes of attracting commercial air service back to Northern Colorado.
But it needs the support of Fort Collins, where not all city leaders are sold on the idea.
“Right now, Fort Collins is deciding whether to contribute the million dollars,” said Fort Collins mayor Jeni Arndt. “Our finance committee asking what’s in it for us. They’re asking for increased metrics and before we just sign off on a million dollars – what does success look like? What’s in it for Fort Collins?”
The new Northern Colorado Regional Airport terminal will cost about $25 million to build. There’s already nearly $17 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act sitting in a bank account for the construction of the new terminal. But those funds came with a 2024 deadline, so the clock is ticking.
If the funds aren’t spent, they need to be repaid to the federal government.
Both cities have a tentative agreement to kick-in $1 million each to launch construction. Loveland unanimously approved its portion in a 9-0 vote.
“Loveland has committed in its 2023 budget to construction of the airport,” said Loveland mayor pro tem Don Overcash. “As chair of the airport commission, I believe the commission is 100% committed to making this happen. And it will be completed by July of 2024. We are getting a new airport terminal.”
The history of the current terminal and airport can be described as turbulent at best. Regional carriers like Allegiant and Avelo have ceased service and there’s still some debate about the lack of a control tower and how a virtual tower with remote air traffic controllers might work.
At the moment – the old terminal is still in use, but there haven’t been commercial flights in and out of the airport for months.
The promise is – with a new terminal arriving by 2024, commercial flights will return, as well.
“A new terminal would attract commercial service. It would also get more people using this facility, using the airport. We could actually expand our service,” said Nick Johnson, vice president and head of commercial for Landline bus services.
Presently, the only service in and out of FNL – Northern Colorado Regional Airport – is bus service on Landline, which does work directly with United Airlines – allowing passengers to check-in here at FNL’s ticket counter and securely drop their bags.
“We’re basically like a regional jet on the ground,” Johnson said. “Once you’re at DIA you already have your boarding pass, you already have your bag tags, and you just have to go through security there.”
Landline currently offers multiple roundtrips from FNL to DEN and back.
Passengers like Bo Ramsey see it as a timesaver.
“I get my sky miles, too,” Ramsey said who lives in Greeley and is traveling to Dallas on United for business. “You never get that in a big airport. (The ticket agent) gave me my boarding passes and when I get to DIA I just go straight through security. It should be substantially easier.”
Ramsey said if air service returned, he would use it consistently.
“I would fly in and out of here every time,” Ramsey said. “Free parking and it’s just easier.”
Loveland and Fort Collins aren’t entirely at odds.
In a show of solidarity for the project, Arndt and Overcash stood side-by-side inside the old terminal for an interview with Denver7, both saying they would get it done.
“We see this as a jigsaw puzzle,” Overcash said. “And there’s a lot of pieces that need to come together for the airport to reach its full potential.”
“What if some of those pieces don’t come together,” asked Denver7’s Russell Haythorn.
“We are building a terminal. It will get done by July 2024,” Overcash restated.
“What this airport certainly is and can be is a regional transit hub,” Arndt said. “And that’s without question, right?”
Cashman says regardless of what happens in Fort Collins, the terminal will get built and it will arrive right on-time.
Fort Collins will put its portion of the funding to a full council vote on February 21.
“There’s a ton of demand for air service and people traveling out of this region,” Johnson said.
Johnson said data from phone records shows there are as many as 5,000 people from northern Colorado passing through DIA on a daily basis.
Ramsey is just one of them.
“Time is money,” Ramsey said. “So, I’d absolutely fly out of here.”
But questions linger for Fort Collins about the airport’s viability.
“Will people drive by (FNL) to go to Denver?” Arndt said. “What would the price point be? Would they actually get on a plane to fly to Denver, or would it serve other destinations? We’ve had several commercial carriers here and I think you know the history there.”
“I know this,” Overcash stated once again. “We will get it done. We are building a terminal by July 2024.”
"We are still working together," said Arndt, who grew up in Fort Collins. "I remember asking my dad if the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland would ever connect. He said, 'Not in my lifetime, but certainly someday.' We see the value in this partnership, it's just a matter of due diligence."