Sioux Falls airport eyeing gate, cargo upgrades as parking ramp breaks ground
Two parking projects will add more than 1,000 much-needed spaces to the lot’s capacity, but airport officials say gate and cargo improvements are also in the works.
SIOUX FALLS — The Sioux Falls Regional Airport broke ground on a much-needed parking expansion project last week, but airport officials say the ramp is just one of many upcoming additions to passenger experience.
On a warm and sunny Wednesday, April 12, community leaders, members of the public and media gathered outside of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport for a groundbreaking ceremony of a $63 million, 975-space parking ramp.
“Without the parking garage — between our short-term lot, long-term lot and the economy lot — we have a total of 3,100 spaces,” said Dan Letellier, executive director of the airport. “When we're done with the parking garage, we'll have about a net-gain of about 700 spaces.”
The four-level ramp is being constructed over the top of the existing short-term lot — immediately outside the terminal’s main entrance — and will feature a mix of short- and long-term parking. It will be connected to the building via a skywalk.
The 18-month project was originally planned to break ground on April 3, Letellier said, but was pushed back by a little more than a week. Construction is expected to continue through roughly October 2024.
Parking at the airport has long been near-capacity. Letellier said that in an effort to accommodate some of the spots that will be unavailable during construction, a 500-space expansion of the economy lot on the airport’s south end will be added this summer.
Letellier said that most of the parking construction’s price tag will be paid for using the airport’s reserve fund, though a short-term loan of about $10 million was necessary to ensure the reserve fund didn’t dip below a specified minimum.
Though the airport does have the authority to tax, Letellier clarified that no taxpayer dollars are going toward this project, as smart spending over the years has allowed the reserve to build up.
“We are an independent governmental entity, much like any municipality, so we do have that ability to tax and zone, but we don't apply any tax for this,” he said. “Forty-five percent of our revenue comes from parking, plus there’s airport rentals and landing fees, ground leases around the property, rental car and concession revenue. So all of that helps fund the operation of the airport, but we've been pretty conservative over the years, and our reserves have built up over time.”
During the construction project, the airport is urging travelers to consider alternative forms of transportation to the airport to avoid the need to park, if possible. That could be a ride from a friend or using a ride-share service, Letellier said.
Parking projects one of many upcoming expansions
Though the addition of more than 1,000 parking spots on the Sioux Falls Regional Airport’s land may be the most current project, airport officials are already looking ahead at other upgrade and expansions to improve traveler experience and operational capabilities.
Airport traffic has risen roughly 25% over the past eight or nine years, Letellier said, reaching a record number of 1.3 million people coming through the Sioux Falls airport in 2022.
“We certainly have been working on trying to keep the terminal facility to a point where we can accommodate the growth we've seen,” Letellier said.
Past improvements have included an expansion to the ticketing area, the relocation of baggage screening, larger passenger checkpoints, additional restaurant capabilities, more gate seating, additional jet bridges and an overhaul of the baggage claim area.
“That’s well over $50 million just in the last seven or eight years to keep the facility up and running,” Letellier said, estimating that roughly $15 million has been spent on the airfield, as well. “I'm glad we have that accomplished. We've been very busy, it's just been ongoing. It's never really been a quiet construction season.”
And travelers have noticed.
“Everybody has been very complimentary already, and some are quite surprised if they're not from Sioux Falls or flying in here. I'm not sure what their expectations are, but people are just really surprised at ‘Wow, you have a really nice airport,’” Letellier explained. “That's the kind of reaction we want from them, and … typically the comments I'd hear is that it far exceeds those expectations.”
In the future, Letellier said the airport’s long-term master plan features multiple gate additions to encourage airlines to offer more flights to and from Sioux Falls.
When airlines examine whether they’d like to add Sioux Falls to their flight offerings, Letellier said they prefer to have one of the first flights out for the day. That would allow the airline to fly to various hubs and have the last flight into Sioux Falls for the night, allowing them to repeat the cycle.
“Having that last flight in and first flight out is always the desire by any new carrier for a new route, but we just can't accommodate any more growth if you don't come in the middle of the day,” Letellier said. “So that is a project we're looking at to add four to five gates. It's one of two different phases to get us from seven to 14 gates in the next 10 to 15 years.”
The funding for additional gates will be a challenge, with Letellier estimating the cost at $130 million — roughly four times higher than it would’ve been had the project been pursued a few years prior. Federal grants and funding from the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to assist. That project would likely come in two to three years, he added.
Another project, though not necessarily in the scope of passenger flights, involves the expansion of the cargo apron — where larger planes with UPS, FedEx and Amazon park — to support an increase in freight movement.
The project slated for next year will see the removal and revitalization of certain buildings around runways and the construction of a freight warehouse.
In 2022, more than 60 million pounds of freight passed through the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, plus an additional 17 million pounds of mail. Amazon Air may also expand in Sioux Falls with the opening of the city’s Amazon facility to the airport’s northwest.
“It’s a very busy airport, and it's vital to the community, and as we look to grow, we'll look to our community leadership to help us with that infrastructure,” Letellier said. “Over the next year-and-a-half, again, we’re just asking for everybody's patience as we make these improvements.”