Ben Siegel, executive director of the Lee County Port Authority (LCPA), shared his crystal-ball vision of Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) for 2022 into 2040 and beyond at the Wednesday, Jan. 12, luncheon meeting of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa on Sanibel Island. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association co-hosted and Adventures in Paradise sponsored the first meeting of the new year.
The near future will bring the completion of a three-year Terminal Expansion Project at RSW, Siegel explained. Longer term, the Skyplex at RSW develops to build out LCPA’s acreage along Daniels Road, while a second runway is in the works for 2040 or thereafter.
Plans for the terminal project now underway include consolidating the three Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints into one 16-lane central checkpoint; and providing additional seating, concession spaces, and a business lounge. In total, the project will remodel more than 164,000 square feet of space and add 117,000 square feet of new walkways and concession space to the terminal.
“You’re going to have a completely different experience,” said Siegel. “You won’t be confined to one concourse for dining and other options.” The redesign includes a lounge area on an upper level overlooking the concessions area.
The expansion will meet needs sparked by the airport’s growing numbers. The year 2021 brought seven consecutive record-breaking months in passenger statistics before December numbers have been tallied.
“We do expect to break 2019 numbers for the year,” Siegel said, pointing out that 2019 held the previous record for through-passengers. The airport, ranked number one in the nation for passenger recovery post-lockdown, already serves more destinations than in 2019 with 14 carriers traveling to 58 nonstop destinations. RSW now ranks as the 30th busiest U.S. airport, up from the mid-40s pre-COVID.
Although the airport runs today at only 52 percent of its runway capacity, LCPA has just completed building a new traffic control tower to accommodate a future parallel runway. “We are the third largest single runway airport in the world,” said Siegel.
LCPA will turn over ownership of the new tower to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open early 2023, when the old tower will be demolished. It decided to build the tower using internal funding instead of asking for FAA money to ascertain it stands ready when LCPA goes forward with the second runway. Originally that was slated for construction around 2025, but because airlines are using bigger aircraft these days, fewer planes are now actually using the runway.
As the third largest airport operation in the country in terms of land mass, after Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth, LCPA has been developing 1,150 acres north of RSW. Located in a Foreign Trade Zone, Skyplex, is a mix of aviation and non-aviation businesses, revenue from which supports airport operations. More information on the project is available at skyplexrsw.com <http://skyplexrsw.com> .
“We should feel lucky and utterly impressed with the forward thinking and high-ranking statistics we heard from Ben at the luncheon,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “The LCPA group has virtually guaranteed the future of tourism in Lee County and beyond, and I, for one, am entirely grateful.”
Chamber board chair Mark Blust led the meeting, welcoming everyone into the new year, during which the islands chamber celebrates its 60th anniversary. Attendees also heard current visitation statistics from Pamela Johnson with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
The next business luncheon takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort in Fort Myers. It will feature a water quality policy and project update sponsored by Bailey’s with guest speakers Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation, and Chauncey Goss, board chair of the South Florida Water Management District. The March 9 meeting takes place at Casa Ybel Resort on Sanibel Island with Steve and Doris Colgate from Offshore Sailing speaking.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org <http://sanibel-captiva.org/> receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.
For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org <http://sanibel-captiva.org/> or contact Landen Collins, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or Landen@sanibel-captiva.org <mailto:Landen@sanibel-captiva.org> .