Commentary: Airport plan honors San Antonio’s past while meeting future demand

A rendering of what the curbside walkway could look like at San Antonio International Airport’s new terminal. The new airport plan is just what the city needs to meet future demand.

A rendering of what the curbside walkway could look like at San Antonio International Airport’s new terminal. The new airport plan is just what the city needs to meet future demand.

Courtesy of San Antonio International Airport

San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Our region is also a wonderful place to build or grow a business. While many cities across America are grappling with the challenge of a shrinking population, ours is an entirely different opportunity: How do we not just grow, but also grow well?

For our region to grow well, our airport must do the very same. San Antonio needs an airport that addresses our region’s growth and matches our status as a world-class destination, a place that attracts a young and vibrant workforce and compels our best local talent to remain. For many, the airport is the front door to our region, our first opportunity to welcome the world to this place we all love. The plans recently unveiled by city and airport leaders for the much-anticipated new terminal at the San Antonio International Airport meet that need, and more.

The airport and its operations are essential for economic development in our region and our ability to attract, retain and grow business. That’s one reason local businesses are supplementing the airport’s air service incentive program by investing more than $3 million in an effort by greater:SATX to help attract more nonstop flights to business destinations in North America and establish new routes to Europe. The proposed improvements envisioned in the terminal plan will make it easier to conduct business from San Antonio and more likely that residents across Central and South Texas choose the San Antonio airport for their air travel.

The new terminal will add 17 gates to the existing 25 gates. Three of those new gates will accommodate wide-body jets favored for international flights. Along with a separate program to enhance the airfield, including extending one of the runways to handle long-haul international flights, San Antonio is creating the necessary airport infrastructure to attract new flights and new airlines.

First impressions matter. For local air travelers, that means ease of access, a good customer experience and more nonstop flight options. The plan includes roadway improvements that will enhance traffic flow at drop-off and pickup locations. More than 830,000 square feet of new terminal space will include larger seating areas at each gate, technology enhancements and 41,000 square feet of new concession space.

For visitors, the airport offers their first welcome to San Antonio. That welcome should reflect the culture and history of San Antonio. From outdoor courtyards that highlight our sunny weather to a landscaped “Paseo” inspired by the River Walk and concessions and restaurants that give visitors a taste of San Antonio, the new terminal will offer visitors an authentic San Antonio welcome and a farewell that will reinforce memories of their stay.

This new terminal plan is the result of seven years of planning, reviews of best practices and public engagement to determine what businesses, residents, visitors, concessioners, airlines and other stakeholders want in the San Antonio International Airport.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Manager Erik Walsh have said the new terminal is the priority program for the city over the next five years. It will be the single largest capital project in the city’s history.

As our community grows and as the Alamo Master Plan drives more global interest in San Antonio, our airport should honor our history while meeting future demand. The conceptual elements of the new terminal plan will create the world-class airport our community deserves and needs to grow well, one that is also a driver of economic development and regional prosperity.

Katie Harvey is chair of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and CEO of KGBTexas Communications. Randy Smith is chair of greater:SATX and CEO of Weston Urban.