How the Bradenton airport is changing right before our eyes. A look at what’s happening

Where is everyone? At the airport, of course.

As recently as 2021, the record for annual passenger traffic at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport was about two million, set in 1990. This year, airport officials expect that the total will be about four million.

And the future?

In a decade or two, SRQ could be looking at 10 million to 12 million passengers a year, said Rick Piccolo, the airport’s president and CEO.

The terminal and parking lots at SRQ were overflowing with passengers and cars during Thanksgiving week. So it might not have been apparent to harried travelers that expansion projects to handle all that growth — at an estimated cost of $165 million — are already underway.

On the east side of the existing terminal, behind a construction fence, heavy earth-moving machinery was moving dirt during the holiday week. It’s for a ramp project that will serve a proposed ground level terminal addition and provide apron parking for three airliners.

The ramp project should be completed by spring, while work on a cellphone waiting lot should start next week. A new ground transportation facility for shuttles, taxis and limos should start in January, Piccolo said.

Construction will be much more evident in 2023 as a $15 million utilities relocation project, approved by the Sarasota Manatee Airport in November, gets underway.

By March, expansion should have shifted into high gear with escalator replacement, realignment of the concourse wait room, and ground level terminal construction commencing.

There is also a $40 million baggage handling project underway.

Nobody anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic, or the growth it would help bring to the Bradenton-Sarasota area in general and specifically to the airport. SRQ has seen an even bigger bounce in traffic after Hurricane Ian devastated parts of Fort Myers.

An apron is under construction on the east side of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, shown Nov. 22, 2022, to serve a planned ground-level terminal and provide parking for three airliners.
An apron is under construction on the east side of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, shown Nov. 22, 2022, to serve a planned ground-level terminal and provide parking for three airliners.

When will the construction end?

Plans call for all construction to be completed by December 2024, when passengers will be able to board and deplane from the planned ground level terminal.

Scott Beck, vice president of contractor DeAngelis Diamond, said the completion date is realistic, but offered a word of caution. The airport project is competing with $3.6 billion in major construction projects in the Tampa Bay area, including a $790 million project at Tampa International Airport and a $550 million project at Tampa General Hospital.

“Our labor force is busy,” he said.

Those other projects loom large because of supply chain problems, the labor shortage, federal requirements, the permitting backlog and hurricane impacts, Beck said.

Vertical construction on SRQ’s new projects should start in the May-June time frame, Scott said.

Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.

The parking challenge

SRQ was able to provide about 4,400 parking spaces during Thanksgiving week, but some of that was at overflow lots, and some of it was on apron space that will not be available in the future once terminal expansion is completed.

What about a parking garage?

There is none, nor are there plans for one.

But there have been discussions. A study would be needed to determine location and size. Unlike other expansion projects planned at the airport, there are no grant or matching funds available for a parking garage.

The airport uses no property taxes for its operations, relying on user fees and state and federal allocations.

“We have $60 million in reserves and are in very good shape from a financial standpoint,” Piccolo said.

Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.
Travelers fill the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport on November 17, 2022 as the week of Thanksgiving approaches.