In a first for the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport area, the city is hitting the jets on efforts to leverage Lovell Field's rapid growth and bolster it as a national and international gateway.
"You want to make sure it's representing the best we're trying to present to the world," said John Bridger, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency's executive director.
Annual passenger boardings at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport:
* Denotes record
Source: Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport
With passenger boardings setting records for four consecutive years, the city is embarking on a pair of actions to spur more economic development at and around the airport.
Plans are to spend $773,000 to upgrade the main entrance to the airport — Shepherd Road from Highway 153. Improvements such as landscaping, sidewalks, curbs and gutters will provide "a lasting nice entryway to the airport," said Terry Hart, Lovell Field's chief executive officer.
Also, there are plans for a $150,000 airport district study to boost economic development around Lovell Field and enhance adjacent neighborhoods.
"We need a vision and a guide," Bridger said.
Passenger boardings are up nearly 57 percent since 2013 to 484,517 people last year. Last week, airport officials said they think reaching the 500,000 boarding mark for the first time ever may be doable this year.
According to the planning agency, the number of direct jobs at the airport could go from 983 in 2008 to 1,600 by 2028, up 66 percent. Also, the growth is expected to impact surrounding infrastructure and neighborhoods.
The area under study will include not just the airport's footprint but Shepherd Road, Highway 153 to Lee Highway and then to Brainerd Road. The initiative will take into consideration prior studies in the neighboring Brainerd Road area, Bridger said.
A market study will look at increasing the number of offices, technology companies, and workforce housing in the airport district. Also, it will examine future land uses for hotels, restaurants and small- and big-box commercial projects.
Hart cited the expansion of air maintenance company West Star Aviation at the airport. The company originally located in 40,000 square feet of space on the west side of the main runway in 2015.
West Star is spending $20 million and nearly tripling its footprint at the airport by adding 80,000 square feet of hangars along with 32,000 square feet of support space on the east side. West Star expects to have close to 150 people working at the airport this year.
"We're pleased the city is recognizing the things going on at the airport," Hart said.
Bridger said city and airport officials are seeing what West Star is doing and need to look at other synergies complementing the airport's growth.
"When you think of future development, what kinds of policies and tools are needed?" he asked, adding that he doesn't think such an plan has ever been carried out for the airport area.
Improving Airport Road, a two-lane artery from Lee Highway that runs past much of Lovell Field, also would fall within the study.
"It will look at appropriate dollars for that road," Bridger said. "What design makes sense and what is envisioned for development? Are there airport development opportunities we haven't thought of in the past to maximize the potential for the airport district?"
Concerning the planning agency's effort, Bridger said interviews of candidates to conduct the study are underway with hopes of a contract awarded as early as this week.
He said the study will be "a public process."
"We intend to engage stakeholders in the area," Bridger said. He said a draft plan should be ready by mid-January.
The planning agency study comes as the airport wraps up its own master plan designed to envision 15 to 20 years ahead. Just last week, airport officials indicated they're looking at meeting future parking needs by building a deck near the terminal.
A multilevel garage, which could hold up to 1,300 spaces, likely would be located across from the existing baggage claim and rental car location, according to an update to the planning process laid out for airport officials.
Also discussed was an expansion of the passenger concourse, more lanes at the security checkpoint and more gates by which to board and depart aircraft.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.