The St. Mary’s County Regional Airport was awarded $3.9 million in federal funding, Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen announced last week.
The funds, awarded through the Maryland Department of Transportation and drawn from the Federal Aviation Administration’s airport improvement program, will go toward clearing and grading efforts in order to extend one of the airport’s runways from 4,150 feet to 5,350 feet, according to county public works staff, and make room for three additional hangars on the airport’s west side. It will also go to support airport operations as the county works to expand the airport, and build out an innovation district there.
That construction is scheduled to start next spring, and be finished by fall 2020, public works staff said.
“By lengthening the runway, we’ll be able to get slightly larger planes in,” like twin-engine prop planes, John Deatrick, director of St. Mary’s public works and transportation department, said. “People won’t really know the difference” in the airport plane traffic, he added.
“The most important aspect of that is to actually have additional hangars, including a small county hangar for small plane maintenance,” Deatrick said.
“The St. Mary’s Regional Airport is an important local hub that connects the area to businesses and travelers within the region,” Van Hollen (D-Md.), member of the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committees, said in a release. “I will keep working in Congress to ensure that Maryland has the funding it needs to keep all of our airports — large and small — safe and accessible to our residents.”
Improvements at the airport are budgeted at over $23 million in the county’s capital plan, with federal funds totaling $19.1 million. Appropriations for the projects are split among a 90% federal investment, 5% state funding and 5% from local sources.
This year, $4.9 million is allocated to move Airport Road, Lawrence Hayden Road and Taxiway A. Relocating the roads and taxiway have begun, Deatrick said during a St. Mary’s County commissioners meeting on April 30, when the commissioners were briefed on preliminary plans to build out the area in California surrounding the airport as an innovation district.
The St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development has hired the firm Torti Gallas + Partners and Toole Design Group to design that plan. The firm, which has offices in Silver Spring, Washington, Los Angeles and Istanbul, has a wide-ranging portfolio, which includes designing the LifeSci Village in Montgomery County and Crystal City in Arlington, Va.
The concept for the innovation district includes the airport itself; TechPort, the county’s business incubator; the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site and the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland; the industrial park north of the airport; business park, retail center and residential part of Wildewood, Chris Kaselemis, director of economic development, previously said.
“A key piece of what we would like to achieve and also of their work is connectivity of all of the area,” Deatrick told the commissioners at the April meeting. “That includes not just roadways but bike, [pedestrian], transit, all of those pieces tying all together to help people get around easier.”
“And also, are there meeting and gathering places?” Kaselemis said, adding that idea exchange that sparks innovation is another key aspect to developing the area.
“The St. Mary’s County Regional Airport is an important gateway to commerce and tourism in Southern Maryland and around the Chesapeake Bay,” Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, said in the release. “This federal investment will ensure the airport’s runways and facilities can keep up with demand and continue to contribute to our state’s economic growth.”
Those designs are underway, but county staff is looking to repurpose the airport’s terminal to add more amenities for pilots, like food services. Some private development has also started, Kaselemis said in April.
Ken Reed, managing partner of aviation development company S. Hunt Aero, has “been going nuts out there, just building and building and building,” Kaselemis said. A 20,000-square-foot building was recently completed at the airport, with three other smaller office buildings in the works.
The design plan will help inform an update to the airport layout plan, expected at the end of the year, Deatrick told commissioners, but Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said he hopes the consultant takes “into account our rural nature, and character and our history, and make it that way.”
“Torti Gallas is well aware that we’re a rural county … this is not downtown D.C.,” Kaselemis said to O’Connor. “It’s not gonna end up being five-story buildings with a downtown area,” although having a well-connected business district give St. Mary’s a competitive edge and potentially attracts millennials who gravitate to more walkable areas, like Leonardtown, Kaselemis said.
“I’m good with it as long as it fits into our already existing landscape,” O’Connor said.