The Saint John Airport wants developers to know it's open for business — and to new ideas.
Airport CEO Sandy Ross said the airport has space available and is keen to partner with developers to "diversifying the revenue streams for the airport."
He said the COVID-19 pandemic underscored "a certain fragility" in how the airport's bottom line is so closely tied with revenue from passenger travel.
The idea is to lease airport property to a third party that would take over the development of the project.
The airport hired Colliers, which offers commercial real estate services, and commissioned an artist's rendering of a couple of possibilities to consider.
"This is a visioning document for us," Ross said. "This is where we're headed. But we're not there today. This is about letting the market know that we're open for business."
This map outlines where aiport officials envision development in three separate areas of the property. The vision is to have a hotel within the 'airport amenities zone' on the right. (Colliers)
While a lot of space is available, Ross said the initial focus is on two separate parcels of land along Loch Lomond Road.
The first is where Loch Lomond Road meets Route 111, the Airport Arterial, on a portion of the property commonly referred to as "the sliding hill."
Ross said they've envisioned a "local services zone" on that seven-hectare plot that could include a gas station, quick-service restaurant, retail, and more.
The second area is eight hectares adjacent to the entrance to the airport terminal and includes the land once used for a driving range.
Ross said nothing has been decided, and the airport authority remains open to new ideas and suggestions.
The renderings, for example, show a hotel and parking garage in what is currently part of the long-term parking area.
Saint John airport officials envision developing land deeper into the property for cargo and other uses. (Colliers)
Ross said if a hotel were contemplated, it would likely make the most sense to locate it along Loch Lomond Road so that it could not only serve the airport, but also the local community, including St. Martins, where there is no hotel.
He said it would make sense to construct any future hotel as close to the terminal building as possible "so that if someone were staying at the hotel and wanted to get to their flight without necessarily going back out into the cold and snow … then having it adjacent to the hotel would make good sense."
If a hotel did take over existing parking, Ross said, the airport would certainly make sure there was plenty of parking.
Even before Colliers' ad was posted publicly, Ross said the airport was already in discussions with potential developers.
"So we've got a number of different folks we've been chatting with about everything from a service station to a grocery store to quick-serve restaurants."
Ross said the airport even commissioned a study of the "viability of a hotel and the preliminary study came back very positive."
The Saint John airport as it currently exists. (Saint John Airport)
He said it wouldn't just be a hotel for air passengers, but "more of a community hotel" that would serve the area between the hotels on the city's east side and the St. Martins and Fundy coast area.
"We're a pretty small airport to go get that, but the combination of the airport and the community seems to make it worthwhile."
Last year, the Saint John Airport had 149,000 passengers fly in or out. That, said Ross, is about 60 per cent of the airport's peak years in 2018 and 2019.
He projects next year they'll be at about 70 per cent.
"I think most of the airports in Atlantic Canada have been working to get back to 100 per cent" of pre-pandemic levels.
Given the expansion of Saint John's port and rail businesses, Ross said the airport authority "could envision a future where the Saint John Airport could be a logistics and business hub."
He said the long-term goal would be to develop the land deeper into airport territory "as a sort of an industrial park or a commercial park" that could include air-related services, manufacturing and light-industrial ventures.
Those developments could eventually help lead to an extension of the runway, said Ross. He said there's enough property to allow for a runway of up to 3,000 metres, but development would depend on having "a very robust long-distance cargo business — that does not exist at the moment."
Some interest already
Christine Stanley is a commercial real estate agent with Colliers, which is trying to spread the word to developers that the Saint John Airport is open to new business partnerships.
She said the company often helps facilitate long-term leases like the one the airport is looking for.
The ad only "went live" last week, but Stanley said they've been "working in the background" before the launch and "have some interested parties at the moment that we have been working with."
Although there are some letters of intent, there's nothing yet in writing, she said.