Lafayette Parish’s 1-cent airport sales tax pulled in almost $32.6 million to help pay for a new $90 million commercial terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport during the eight months it was collected last year, officials said.
Originally projected to bring in $35 to $37 million, the tax took effect April 1 and ran until Nov. 30, a period that saw sales tax revenue fall 7 to 10 percent each month compared with the same months in 2014 because of declining oil and gas activity.
Although merchants quit charging the extra penny at the end of November, the parish collected the tax from businesses in December and tallied the final receipts this month.
“I think we are in good shape,” Airport Commission Chairman Paul Guilbeau said when he learned of the total this week.
“Now we’ve got to do what the taxpayers trusted us to do, and that is build it,” he said.
Parish voters in December 2014 elected to tax themselves an extra penny for each dollar on retail sales to pay for a modern passenger terminal.
The tax proceeds will be added to money from bonds and federal and state grants to cover the $90 million.
Guilbeau said construction should start in early 2017.
Guilbeau is one of five members of an ad hoc airport committee that is screening proposals by architectural and engineering firms for work on the terminal and other projects. He said the committee is on track to finish by a Friday deadline its review of prequalification proposals submitted by eight architectural and engineering firms.
“I want to try to hold to the deadline,” Guilbeau said. “I’d be hard pressed to accept any delay” unless it’s vital.
The same committee also will review proposals by project management companies interested in building the terminal. According to the commission’s timeline, the committee will complete its review by Feb. 4, and will notify the companies the next day and set up interviews.
The commission wants to award the design and project management contracts by June 1.
Commission Vice Chairman Tim Skinner said the architectural and engineering firms and the project management companies should be able to submit their ideas and proposals for the airport within the commission’s time frame.
“All the contractors knew it (the terminal project) was coming,” he said. “The big firms do this all the time. I don’t think it will be that difficult to get those packages out on time.”
Commissioners in 2014 fanned out across the parish to lobby for the tax to modernize the airport that struggles to handle parking on some days and to process long queues for boarding and luggage.
According to preliminary plans, a new terminal will expand the passenger gates from three to five, with room to add two more. Parking also would be increased.
“I think we need to get this thing rolling,” Skinner said. “I think we’re behind where we should be.”
Skinner said the commission and others began the push for a new terminal before the tax was passed two Decembers ago. “Along the way we had a lot of hurdles to overcome,” he said.
One was finding and hiring an executive director after former airport Director Greg Roberts resigned in June 2014. Roberts was accused of pointing a fake gun at an engineer during a meeting at the airport.
Lafayette airport Director Steven Picou was hired away from the airport in Amarillo, Texas, in January 2015, after a months-long national search. Lafayette commissioners chose Picou, 44, partly because of his experience in selecting contractors and in running the daily operations of an airport undergoing major projects.