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Parking Outside The Lines

Cars are lined up in the grass outside the designated parking spots at the Flagstaff airport last year.

As the city has worked to increase use of the Flagstaff Airport over the last two years, one thing that hasn’t changed is the number of parking spots available at the airport.

Now the city is hoping to address that as they develop plans to approximately double the number of parking spaces at the airport.

Airport Director Barney Helmick said the city is currently planning on building a second parking lot just to the north of the current lot and the outgoing section of the South Pulliam Drive loop.

The lot could contain as many as 400 additional parking spots, although Helmick said since they are still early in the planning process, the exact number is liable to change. Nonetheless, that would bring the number of parking spaces to almost 800 at the airport.

At the moment, Helmick said the airport has about 385 spots. But during the past summer, he said it was not unusual to see as many as 500 vehicles parked at the airport.

This led to many travelers parking their cars in the forested areas along the side of Pulliam Drive and even on some islands between the parking lot and the road.

At this point, there are a lot of variables, but Helmick said if everything goes smoothly, they could see shovels in the ground as early as summer of 2020.

Helmick said the parking lot is currently going through the planning process, so he couldn’t speak to any cost estimates.

But however much the parking lot ends up costing, Barney said the project is designed to pay for design and construction of a new lot with a paid parking system at the airport.

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This could be used to pay off a construction loan over the next 20 years.

That paid system may use the city’s current Park Flag program that residents use to pay for parking downtown, but Helmick said the city has also asked if there are other companies interested in bringing a paid parking system to the airport.

Even if the program does use Park Flag, Helmick said it will have to be set up differently.

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“Downtown it’s all hourly based and very few people would be parking around the clock down there. Out here the majority of our passengers, unless you’re just coming and renting a car for the day, they’re going to be [parked] here around the clock for three to seven days on average,” Helmick said, adding that would mean daily charges instead of hourly.

Parking at the airport has been an issue for some time, but as the city encourages residents to use the airport more, the problem of parking capacity has worsened.

In the past year, the city has brought in additional daily flights to Dallas and Denver through American Airlines and United Airlines respectively. But Helmick said it’s also a matter of the size of the planes that are accessing the airport.

“If you go back 10 years, we were doing eight flights a day but they were only 38-seat planes,” Helmick said. By comparison, the planes now flown into the airport by United seat 50 passengers and American's planes hold 70. “We’re averaging somewhere between 350 and 400 passengers per day going in and out of here. A year ago that was 180, so we basically just about doubled the volume of passengers going in and out and have not been able to increase parking.”

The city had previously been working to implement a different plan to address parking at the airport, but it fell apart last year when the funding mechanism fell through.

At that time, the city planned on paying for the infrastructure through the sale of a 32-acre parcel of land to Green Tree Inn, which was going to build its second Flagstaff hotel on the property. But the deal fell through in July of 2018 when the company canceled the project only two days before closing on the sale.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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