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NOTEBOOK: Airport executive director lays out terminal project funding, discusses plane parking and his future


The Business Record recently sat down for an interview with Kevin Foley, the executive director of the Des Moines International Airport, for a conversation about the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the airport being operated as an airport authority form of government. It turned into a wide-ranging conversation that touched on the planned construction of a new terminal, concerns about space to park airplanes, and Foley’s future at the airport.

On the terminal
There are still questions today on the funding that is needed to build a new terminal.

So far, the work that has been done, such as the new entrance road, which opened Aug. 26, has been done with cash reserves and some grant money, Foley said.

The estimated cost of building a new terminal is about $260 million. Foley said the airport can likely come up with $60 million of its own money, leaving a $200 million gap.

If enough funding comes in from the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure package being debated in Congress, Foley believes the airport can comfortably bond the balance of the amount needed to build a new terminal.

If that money becomes available sooner, the terminal plans could be expedited, Foley said, but until then the airport will continue on its present course with the projects that lead up to the terminal.

“We’re going to get what we can done,” Foley said. “We will build the extension to the parking garage, we’re going to get the road done, but it won’t be complete until [the existing terminal] is torn down. We’re going to come up to the actual terminal building itself. You can’t start a building you can’t finish.”

He said he’s optimistic, though, that funding will be in place to let the terminal project move forward on the current timeline.

“There is so much money floating out there right now, coupled with our own bonding capacity, I’m optimistic we will be able to move forward, we will minimally be able to keep on the timeline that’s been set to move in in 2028. Hopefully sooner. If the money becomes available we’ll speed the process up.”

The airport is drafting a request for qualifications, which Foley said will allow the airport to bring architects on board and look at their qualifications, and then negotiate a contract. If successful, an architectural team could be brought on board in 2022 to begin work on the project. Then there’s a bill in the Iowa Legislature that could help the airport speed up the process, Foley said.

“I mean all of this could fall apart, but we have to bring these people on at some point anyway, so let’s get ready,” he said.

Foley said he’s wary of being too committed to a specific timeline for the project, given the questions about funding.

“Do you even design a building that you’re not going to start construction on for maybe years?” he said. “I have never said this terminal was never going to get built if we didn’t close funding. The question is when will it get built if we didn’t close funding.”

He said the airport generates cash reserves every year, but it would take 20 years to generate enough reserves that it could bond against its revenue stream.

“But at that point the issue becomes, are we an economic tool, are we supporting the economy, or are we becoming a hurdle to expansion?” Foley said.

Plane space
Space for parking airplanes is a primary concern, and Foley said the airport is quickly running out of that space.

Allegiant, which opened a base of operations in Des Moines on July 1, inquired recently about adding a third plane this fall. Delta Airlines is bringing back its Des Moines to LaGuardia route in October.

“We’ll figure it out, but I’ll tell you we’re struggling,” Foley said.

If the airport runs out of space to park airplanes, “you become a hurdle instead of a tool,” he said.

Foley’s future
Foley, who’s 63 years old, said his plan right now is to stick around to see the funding in place for the terminal construction.

“I would feel incomplete if I left,” he said. “I’ve always known that I would not move into that new terminal. So whoever moves into it needs to be on board for the design and construction.”

That opens the door to hiring someone to fill the assistant executive director position, which Foley held before moving into his current role.

Foley came to the airport in 2008 as a properties administrator after leaving the University of Dubuque, where he taught aviation. He moved into the director of operations position six months later. A year later he became the assistant executive director, a position he held for three years before becoming executive director in 2014.

The assistant executive director’s position has remained unfilled because most airports the size of Des Moines’ don’t have that position. But Foley said the time may be right to begin looking to fill that post.

“For succession planning and the construction of the terminal, we’re going to need extra help,” he said. “So as we get closer, it will be time to bring somebody on. We’re looking at potentially next year trying to bring an assistant executive director, and you would assume that person would be the next executive director.”

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