The economic drag of COVID-19 continues to manifest in mysterious ways, leaving Missoula International Airport searching for novel solutions, not just for own financial matters, but for the businesses that operate within the facility.
Already this year, the former owners of High Country Gifts opted not to reopen in the new fiscal year after operating in the airport terminal for nearly 20 years.
With business down and a new passenger terminal under construction, the airport turned to a new concessionaire to keep the store running. Several employees chose to leave with the change in management, but several others opted to stay on.
The contract is now held by Faber Coe & Gregg, which operates in several dozen U.S. airports.
“Faber has been very positive about the sales they’ve been achieving on a daily and weekly basis,” said Lynn Fagen, the airport's administrative manager. “They’re very encouraged, as are we. They’ve been great to work with.”
Other concessionaires have reported a drop in revenue associated with the national decline in passengers, including Republic Parking. The firm holds the contract to manage parking at the airport, though it has seen revenues dip as passenger numbers have decreased.
The contract currently requires Republic Parking to pay its minimum annual guarantee each month. In the past, Fagen said, the payment was less than the gross payment due at the end of the year to shore up any differences owed per the contract.
“This year, they’ve requested to change their payment terms so they are only required to pay the percentage of gross monthly (income) and then true up at the end of the contract year,” said Fagen. “It changes their payment terms and is only effective for this fiscal year.”
Despite the challenges, the airport continues to press forward on its new passenger terminal and the businesses that will operate within it. Next month, designs for the new bar and grill inside the south concourse will be released.
This month, the airport also awarded a $3.6 million contract to Martel Construction for a new baggage handling system inside the new concourse. The system will streamline checked baggage through each ticketing counter as it heads to security, then the aircraft.
The project will begin after the airport receives an anticipated grant from TSA, which will screen the baggage on the new handling system. Most projects associated with Phase 1 in the new south concourse have been awarded, through a few others remain.
“We’ll be seeing one more for a temporary baggage claim carousel, our furniture fixtures and equipment – office spaces and high-density seating in hold rooms – and signage and wayfinding,” said Tim Damrow, manager of airport projects. “This will round out construction on the south concourse.”
The airport has also seen several long-term employees retire. Airport Director Cris Jensen said the facility will hold off filling the positions until a later point in time.
“We are not filling any of those positions right now as a cost-savings measure,” Jensen said. “We’ll hold off on backfilling them until we figure out what the future looks like financially.”