City officials expect the Mobile Downtown Airport to become an international terminal when commercial service is eventually moved to the Brookley Aeroplex. Mayor Sandy Stimpson mentioned the change during his virtual State of the City address from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce building Thursday.
“Perhaps the most transformative change to Mobile’s economic future comes as the result of the recently announced plan to move all commercial air service to the Mobile Downtown Airport at Brookley Field,” Stimpson said. “For the first time in our city’s history, Mobilians will soon enjoy the benefits of having an international airport in our city, yielding lower ticket fares, more low-cost carrier options and additional direct flights to new cities.”
While some airports add the word “international” to their terminals without the capability for actual service, the proposed buildout for Mobile’s new commercial airport includes a federal inspection services station through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to Mobile Airport Authority President Chris Curry.
Having the building on-site will give Mobile a leg up when it comes to commercial service, Curry said, but it will also make it easier to recruit possible business tenants to the aeroplex and could be used as another amenity to international businesses already at the industrial park.
As for lower future ticket prices, Curry said that will be possible due to the increased number of potential passengers achieved through moving the airport closer to the city’s central business district and potential customers in Baldwin County.
“In order for us to have a chance at reducing fares, we must have competition in the market,” Curry said. “The only way to have competition in the market is to move downtown.”
Curry said the airport also plans to lower fares by making the airport less expensive to use for carriers, which the board hopes, in turn, will be passed down to consumers.
As for low-cost carriers, Curry said the cheaper services would only ever consider bringing flights to Mobile if the airport was downtown. Curry said he will begin meeting with carriers in a couple of weeks for the downtown airport, which hasn’t had traditional commercial flights since Frontier Airlines left during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’ll be the first face-to-face meetings he’s had with executives from national carriers since the pandemic started in late March.
When it comes to the cost of the new airport, Stimpson said the federal government would handle the majority of expenses.
“The federal government will cover the lion’s share of the cost of a new, state-of-the-art terminal and contribute to additional investments at the downtown airport,” he said. “This will further advance our future economic development opportunities at the Brookley Aeroplex.”
Stimpson also talked about the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest that has gripped the nation.
“In a year marked by a global pandemic and social unrest, how do we measure the ‘state of the city?’” Stimpson asked in the speech. “Should we measure it by COVID-19 infection rate or its death rate? The number of businesses shut down or new business startups? Or should we measure it by job growth? Or population growth? Or by crime trends? The answer to all these questions is ‘yes.’”
Before the speech even started, Stimpson mirrored his nightly COVID-19 email updates in a video presentation. He then spoke about the steps the city has taken to fight the virus that has killed more than 262 people countywide since March.
“Clearly, this was uncharted territory and in short order, we were not only in a health crisis but an economic crisis as well,” he said. “Glued to our TVs, we became fearful for our lives and our livelihoods. Almost all decisions coming from City Hall and the governor’s office were controversial and seemingly divisive. There were no easy answers.”
Stimpson praised local hospitals and frontline workers. In the speech, he called them “heroes” and applauded efforts to set up and work satellite testing facilities.
“Citizens expressed their appreciation through ‘Light It Up Mobile,’ by gathering in parking lots outside the hospitals, with headlights beaming, horns blaring, lifting up prayers of appreciation for their service and protection against the virus,” he said. “Today, there is hope for a brighter outcome on the medical front. Therapeutic drugs are evolving to lessen the severity of the virus, and a vaccine will be available sooner rather than later.”
He applauded the local chapter of the Salvation Army, which never shut its doors during the pandemic and provided beds and hot meals to those in need. Stimpson also saluted grocery stores and restaurants for adapting on the fly to new regulations.
After a number of protests, the Mobile Police Department (MPD) has released many of its policies and procedures to the public. Stimpson also worked to set up an equity task force, which will meet next week.
“The recently formed equity task force is evaluating policies in five city departments and will make recommendations for improvements,” Stimpson said. “We are adopting new policies that will ensure our police both respect and protect life. These policies are an important measure in continuing to build better relationships between the community and law enforcement.”
The social unrest did not change budget priorities in Mobile when it comes to the police, however. In an interview with Lagniappe following the speech, Stimpson said the proposed public safety budget has increased and changes would be made to “policy and procedure.”
In the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, MPD is set to receive a slight increase in its budget to over $58 million. The total general fund budget for the city is about $280 million. The total of all three of the city’s budgets is about $338 million.
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