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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Workers finished up replacement of the roof atop the dome at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

Despite a steep drop in passenger traffic due to COVID-19, Chattanooga Airport has moved ahead with key projects as officials see an eventual end to the dreary state of air travel due to the virus.

Airport Chief Executive Terry Hart says that plans are to use this time of sharply fewer travelers — boardings were down nearly 95% in April over a year ago at Lovell Field — to oversee initiatives valued at millions of dollars.

Among the projects:

* Construction has begun on the $25 million parking garage outside the terminal, which will be the airport's first such structure.

* Airport officials have agreed to buy a 1-acre tract adjacent to the airport for $710,000 for future development. The parcel for many years held Nancy's Home Fashions at 5707 Lee Hwy.

* Work has started on a new $4 million general aviation hangar that's slated to be finished by year's end.

* A company finished last weekend putting on a new $950,000 metal roof on the airport's signature dome over the terminal rotunda. The old copper roof was damaged by a severe storm last year.

Concerning the parking garage, Hart told Airport Authority members earlier this week that work is taking place prepping the site on part of the short-term parking lot across from the terminal.

The 1,300-space, four-level garage should start going vertical in July and take about 12 months to build, he said.

Hoar Construction is leading the design-build team for the parking facility that will also accommodate all rental car activities when complete.

In 2019, 554,050 passengers boarded flights at the airport, a record-breaking 10% increase over 2018 and, due to the coronavirus, likely the last of several consecutive years of high traffic marks.

In addition to the deck, the airport has talked about taking on the largest expansion to the existing passenger terminal since its opening in 1991. Design of the expanded terminal was expected to begin this year.

The tract off Lee Highway the airport is buying near Jubilee Drive is nearly surrounded by property that Lovell Field already owns except for a parcel that holds the SkyZoo club.

Nancy's Home Fashions had been replaced by a used car dealership, which plans to stay, Hart said. He said the airport will assume the dealership's lease, which runs for about 10 years with a value of $810,000.

"We believe this is one of those pieces we'd like to have," Hart said.

An airport area master plan done by the city last year showed a potential hotel at Lee Highway and Jubilee Drive along with retail, office or flexible industrial space.

Authority member Travis Lytle asked if the lease could be broken if the airport wanted to get out if it needed.

Airport attorney Kirby Yost said airport officials could negotiate with the tenant.

The roof project on the airport dome cost about $950,000, Hart said. The new roof, while not copper, has the look of the metal, he said.

"It took back the look of the terminal when it opened in 1991," Hart said.

The roof was damaged last July after a micro-burst of wind and rain sheered off a large section of the copper.

The original idea behind the dome was to hearken back to Chattanooga's railroad history to both local residents and to visitors who are entering a key gateway to the Scenic City.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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