Buncombe approval sought for $275m bond

ASHEVILLE — The airport expansion project may finally have a price as spring approaches: no more than $275 million.

That’s according to a request for funding approval from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority that will go before the Buncombe Board of Commissioners on April 6, in accordance with US bond issuance law.

The ‘not to exceed’ $275 million is for revenue bond issuance pending Buncombe approval and will go towards improvements and expansion, which include a new terminal, a hearing says public address of the Airport Authority on March 17.

Previous estimates for the airport terminal expansion were put at $230 million.

This building could come out of the ground in 2022.

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During the public hearing, the authority clarified what the money would be used for.

Janet Burnette, director of finance and accounting for the authority, announced that the money will be used to:

  • Expansion and modernization of the existing terminal.
  • Expansion and modernization of the ticket office.
  • Transportation Security Administration oversight.
  • Baggage claim and concession areas.
  • Improvements to existing infrastructure.
  • Construction of a centralized energy plan.
  • Renovation of the remaining part of the existing terminal.
  • Construction of a new air traffic control tower.

The new tower has been a priority since at least 2019, when the authority said in an annual report that it had “partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to initiate the process of selecting a site for a new control tower. The new air traffic control tower is an essential prerequisite for the expansion of the terminal.”

AVL’s current terminal dates back to 1961 and the FAA control tower is one of the oldest in the country, according to Asheville Regional executive director Lew Bleiweis, who spoke of expansion in 2019 when the airport landed a $10 million grant from the FAA for the project.

“It lacks the height to provide a satisfactory line of sight to air traffic controllers,” state the notes from the March 2021 authorities meeting, “and is in generally poor condition, having exceeded its useful life. “.

“The Greater Asheville Airport Authority is preparing to issue tax-exempt tax bonds to fund its terminal expansion and renovation project,” airport spokeswoman Tina Kinsey said, listing the same projects described during the public hearing.

Bond money can also be used to fund interest accrued during construction, as well as other bond-related financial matters.

“All the installations financed with the proceeds of the bonds will belong to the authority”, notes the State auditor.

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Commissioners will vote on whether to approve the bond at its first meeting in April, in line with US law requiring private activity bonds to be approved by “the governmental unit having jurisdiction over the area in which any facility , in respect of which financing is to be provided by the net proceeds of such issue, is situated.”

Buncombe’s role in approving the bond issue, however, does not mean that they are investing taxpayers’ money in the airport project.

“In no event will the county be liable for these bonds, nor will the bonds constitute a debt of the county,” notes a memo from county attorney Michael Frue, which Kinsey also pointed out.

Frue did not immediately respond to the March 31 request for comment.

Revenue bonds are backed, not by taxes, but by “revenues from a specific project or source, such as highway tolls or rental fees,” according to the US Securities Exchange Commission.

The authority also delivered a transcript of its bond hearing to the Henderson County government, which must also approve the bond issuance before moving forward.

In other business at its April 6 meeting, the Board of Commissioners:

  • Consider approving a budget amendment that will maintain a $445,000 grant for Buncombe’s already existing Jail and Jail Rehabilitation Program, funded by Dogwood Health Trust.
  • Consider approving a budget amendment of $225,197 to acquire services, applications, and other tools to enhance Buncombe’s cybersecurity program.

Andrew Jones is a Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or [email protected] Help support this type of journalism by subscribing to the Citizen Times.

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