Millennial passengers, parking key points of $1.6 billion Reno airport upgrade |

Millennial passengers, parking key points of $1.6 billion Reno airport upgrade

Bart Gover, a national aviation practice leader at Mead & Hunt, talks about the Reno-Tahoe International Airport's 20-year master plan at the last public forum on Thursday, May 24.
Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBV

RENO, Nev. — In 2017, Reno-Tahoe International Airport saw more than 4 million passengers — the most its seen since the great recession.

With the greater Reno area swelling at a rapid rate, thanks in large part to the Biggest Little City becoming a hub for big tech, that number will only continue to climb.

In response, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, along with aviation experts from across the country, have blueprinted a master plan to address airport growth, as well as aviation industry changes and FAA standards, for the next two decades.

Nearly two years after undertaking the project in October 2016, Reno-Tahoe International is finalizing its plan. To clear it for takeoff, the airport held its final public forum regarding the 20-year development plan on May 24.

The project team is made up of aviation experts from across the country, as well as local stakeholders, and the process has been guided by everyone from local business leaders to airport users. Mead & Hunt, a national firm that specializes in airport master planning, was the lead firm in the planning process.

“It’s a two-year culmination of being out there with everybody from key political leaders to lots of open houses to millennial outreach, because they’ll be the travelers in 20 years,” Brian Kulpin, VP of marketing and public affairs at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, said in an interview with the Northern Nevada Business View at the May 24 forum.

The master plan maps out short-term, mid-term and long-term projects that include the development of new concourses, relocation of its cargo facilities, building of a standalone rental car facility, airfield improvements, and parking expansion, among others.

“There are some things that are hot items for us and some that will be stretched out over the 20-year period,” Kulpin said.


With an increasing influx of passengers, especially during holiday weekends, Kulpin said the expanded parking component of the project is an immediate priority. He noted that the rise of ridesharing services is being considered in the airport’s future parking plans, as well.

“How do you plan a future where there’s Uber and Lyft and self-driving cars while you’re trying to design a parking garage?” Kulpin said. “So what we’ve talked about is if we do build an addition to parking, that we build it so that it could possible be converted into an office building afterward — to make sure it’s something we could retrofit if the world changes.”

During their near two-year outreach process, Kulpin said people constantly cited how much they appreciate the airport’s parking and rental cars close proximity to the terminal, as well as the ease of access from the roadway into the terminal.

“We don’t want to lose that in the master plan,” Kulpin added. “We don’t want to lose that small-town feel even as we get bigger.”

After parking, modernizing Concourse B and/or developing new concourses is a project included in the first five years of the master plan, Kulpin said.

Zooming out, Kulpin said long-term plans include moving the cargo facilities to the southwest quadrant — where there is 75 acres of developable land — to enable terminal and concourse expansion.

In all, the project’s price tag is $1.6 billion. Trillion Aviation, an airport consulting firm on the project, estimated that one-third of the plan will be funded by third-party tenants — as demand warrants — and more than half will be funded by airport revenue bonds.


Kulpin said in June, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority Board of Trustees will make a decision on the following:

  1. Approval of the ultimate development concept and supporting financial plan.
  2. Approval to submit the master plan to the Federal Aviation Administration.
  3. Adoption of the master plan upon acceptance by the FAA.

Kulpin said each item stands alone; meaning, the board could approve one or all of the above, adding, “our preference is that they approve all three.”

Notably, adoption of the master plan does not constitute approval of any specific project — each will require evaluation and approvals as they come before the board at later date.

If all goes as planned, the first phase of the master plan would likely break ground in roughly a year, Kulpin said.

“It’s exciting to finally be at this stage,” Kulpin said. “It’s been a two-year process with a lot of hard work and an incredible amount of community outreach that we’ve done. It’s nice to be at this point and have a good blueprint for the future.”

Click here to access the Reno-Tahoe International Airport Master Plan web page.


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