Sioux Falls Regional Airport designing $100+ million expansion

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 6:16 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A big project with an equally big price tag could end up being the lynchpin to the financial success of Sioux Falls and the region as a whole.

The Sioux Falls Regional Airport is showing signs of vitality and strength, with a record year in 2022. More than 611,000 travelers boarded flights over the course of the year.

The airport has seen several projects of note in recent years such as a connecting hotel and a new parking ramp. But it’s what’s on the board that will provide the airport with real opportunities and real challenges.

Dan Letellier is the executive director of the airport, and said the region’s population is increasing, so too are the number of people taking flights in and out of Sioux Falls.

“We are constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Letellier.

But a growing traveler base means the facilities need to grow as well, requiring more than just expanded parking.

“When it comes to terminal facilities, additional parking, cargo facilities, those type of things that’s where it gets to more of a challenge to try and put all those pieces together,” Letellier explained.

The top piece the airport needs as they look to the future: more departure gates. There are currently seven and they’ve been enough for a long time, but not anymore.

Jeff Griffin is the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.

“Airports tell such a story about a community,” said Griffin. “You’re going to retain businesses because of a strong airport, we’re going to recruit businesses because of a strong airport.”

Griffin said when he talks with businesses who want to start here, or relocate here, one of their top topics of conversation is the airport and how it functions for both business and pleasure travel.

Last year, more than 1.2 million travelers passed through the airport. Griffin said that’s one indicator that Sioux Falls, and the economy that supports it, is hot right now.

“I think the success of Sioux Falls and South Dakota has drawn so many people here and when you’re growing as rapidly as we have been there’s going to be some lag in those projections and plans,” Griffin explained.

That rapid growth is impressive. According to statistics from the city of Sioux Falls, the city added more than 6,200 new residents from 2021 to 2022, a three percent increase.

The national average for metro area growth in 2022 was just under one half of one percent. We are leading the nation and then some.

But when an area is growing, the infrastructure has to grow as well. That means new streets, new schools, new medical centers and an airport that can keep up.

“I would say that in the past 4, 5, 6 years we’ve gone from being a city people aren’t sure if its in Iowa or South Dakota to people know Sioux Falls,” said Mayor Paul TenHaken.

Mayor TenHaken knows all about the challenges of keeping up with growth. He’s overseen the issues of expanding the city’s wastewater facility, for example, and making sure there are new police officers and firefighters.

TenHaken, like Jeff Griffin at the Chamber, also hears from a lot of people who want to know the status of the airport.

“The airport and the plans for the airport are a top five issue,” TenHaken said.

That brings us back to Den Letellier, who says they have a plan to make sure the airport can keep up with a growing population and a growing demand for flights.

The plan would add five additional departure gates to the existing seven.

“It’s really hard to do just one or two gates,” Letellier explained. “You really need to make the jump. You need to add four or five gates but the cost of that is far more expensive than it was a few years ago.”

Right now, the cost of adding those additional gates is at least $130 million, which is going to be a problem.

“A $130 million concourse addition is not something that we readily have funding available for,” Letellier said.

If Letellier sounds like financing is a lonely proposition, that’s because it is. The airport is its own entity, the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Authority. If it is going to undertake a $130 million project, they need to find the $130 million.

People might assume the airport is operated by the city itself, but it is not.

“When they have a $100 million, $130 million, whatever the number will be, expansion. There’s a huge economic benefit for the city for that to happen, yet technically it’s not in our lane of responsibility in terms of financial authority,” TenHaken explained.

As the Sioux Falls Regional Airport considers a $130 million expansion plan, the Rapid City Airport is working on a $150 million expansion plan.

The two largest airports in the state will be competing for financial help at the same time, and the clock is ticking.

“We hope to start construction of this maybe by 2026,” Letllier said.

So where would the money for this come from? It could be a combination of whatever the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Authority could come up with on its own. There also would be financial requests made to the city, state and federal government. None of the entities are in any way forced to donate anything.