One of the bags on a Gulfport Biloxi International Airport carousel belonged to Ellen Royston. The Tampa woman had just flowen into town for a few days of gambling. "This airport is awesome. Very easy to get around," she said. "It's small, and we like it."
In two years, the airport's cozy feel will disappear. The Gulfport airport is getting a facelift. "We're upgrading the look," airport assistant director Ken Spirito said.
Spirito showed WLOX News the $23 million plans that double the size of the airport. "The whole entire project is going to be unlike anything we've ever tackled," he said.
The plan is to enclose the 30 foot driveway right in front of the terminal. That will give passengers more room to pick up their boarding passes and check in their luggage. According to Spirito, "We'll be able to position ourselves a lot better in offering our product from a customer service perspective."
On Thursday, Spirito met with rental car managers and other airport tenants. He showed them the renovation designs, so they could see where their businesses would be relocated. Most were impressed with the airport's changes. "There's no need to wait around," said rental car manager Don Hartfield. "We have to have some confidence that the gulf coast will continue to grow as a destination resort."
Back at baggage claim, Ellen Royston seemed disappointed with the proposed changes. "Don't make it any bigger. I like it the way it is," Royston said. When asked why, the Tampa woman said, "Because it's easy. The bigger you get, the more people (you have)."
That's exactly why the airport authority is expanding the terminal -- so as many as a million passengers a year can fly out of Gulfport.
A combination of federal, state and passenger facility charge revenues will pay for the airport expansion. The last time the airport had a major improvement made to it was in 1997.