Public gets first look at plan for airport that calls for major expansion while preserving its charm

For months, PSP staff have been meeting with consultants and city employees in a working group to put together initial alternatives and designs. They presented them Tuesday night.
Audience members look over preliminary designs for additions to Palm Springs International Airport at the city’s convention center Tuesday evening.

A large crowd turned out to the Palm Springs Convention Center Tuesday evening to learn more about big changes that could be coming to the Palm Springs International Airport (PSP).

PSP administration, consultants, and architects presented to a crowd of more than 150 locals the initial renderings for an expanded airport terminal as a part of the new airport master plan. Also in attendance were City Councilmember Jeffrey Bernstein and City Manager Scott Stiles.

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PSP officials explained that the master plan is a “decision-making tool” to guide future development at the airport and is also a planning tool for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It does not serve as a business or marketing plan and is not a noise study.

Development of the new master plan began in February and is estimated to take about 30 months. The planning process is broken into phases: the first will focus on the terminal and landside development, and the second will focus on the airfield.

For months, airport staff have been meeting with consultants and city staff in a working group to put together the initial alternatives and conceptual designs for the airport terminal and parking areas, and that’s what was presented to residents Tuesday night.

Ryan Hayes, a project manager with the consulting firm Mead & Hunt, said with the current rate of passenger growth, the airport in its current state will not be able to meet future demand. Last year, PSP saw about 3 million passengers and by 2042 the airport will be expected to accommodate 6 million.

“The bottom line is, the airport’s a little behind the curve now and we need to start planning for more facilities to accommodate this growth,” Hayes said at a similar presentation to the City Council last week.

To meet that need, the consultants’ analysis shows the airport needs to have roughly double the current amount of parking spaces and terminal square footage, and, most importantly, increase the number of gates from 18 to 32.

The presenters acknowledged what locals and visitors love most about the airport like its indoor/outdoor feel, mountain views, and overall charm, and promised to preserve those qualities.

An architect working on the plans showed off four different alternatives for expanding the airport, ranging from a partial reuse of the existing space to a complete replacement. Two of the options would expand the existing terminal but arrange the additions in different ways.

In this rendering of possible changes to PSP, a new terminal is seen to the south, along with new parking.

A third option presents a more dramatic change with entirely new concourses and an expansion of the central open space.

The final option would completely replace the existing terminal with a new structure to the east of the existing terminal and move the entrance to Kirk Douglas Way.

Neil McLean, an architect with Gensler, assured the audience that the midcentury Donald Wexler-designed building would be preserved.

“It may or may not have any airport functions,” he said. “It could be used for office space or other civic fashions.”

McLean said it might seem like the cheapest option would be the one that preserves as much of the current space as possible, and the most expensive option would be the complete replacement. But that’s not always the case.

“The thing with existing buildings is you never know what you’re going to find in the construction process,” he said.

Daniel Gonnella, a Palm Springs resident, said he’s open to the new ideas, but worries the expanded airport could enable too much growth too quickly.

“We used to have an off-season when the desert took a breath and our infrastructure and aquifer could take a break,” he said. “Now, high-season is year-round and that could mean things start to get overtaxed.”

PSP officials and staff will be holding several more open houses as they begin to refine the concepts and develop cost estimates. By October, they hope to bring recommendations to the City Council.


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