Booing greeted Waco Mayor Dillon Meek about halfway through his speech Friday, the sound’s source quietly slipping into the crowd as Meek talked about spending $9 million remodeling Waco Regional Airport.
The rude interloper proved to be none other than Chip Gaines, who never met a fixer-upper he didn’t like. Turns out Meek invited the reality TV star, Magnolia mogul and Waco fan to join the fun. Gaines later donned a hard hat and joined others in bashing drywall with gold-painted sledgehammers.
All in a day’s work for the “Fixer Upper” co-star who made “demo day” a household word among the show’s devoted followers. Gaines said from the podium the occasion was not about him, though his presence and banter with the crowd proved a hit in more ways than one. He professed love for his and his family’s hometown and business hub. They have no plans to leave, he said.
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He called the $8.7 million renovation a strategic move. A healthy, robust airport reflects similar qualities in its surroundings, Gaines said.
That’s the big idea behind Fly Waco Transformed: Terminal Building Modernization Project, years in planning and projected “to create a clean and aesthetically pleasing terminal that best represents the culture and values of the community,” said city spokeswoman Monica Sedelmeier in a release.
To that end, general contractor Hensel Phelps will update restrooms, flooring, ceiling finishes and security checkpoint, and arrange to install electronic charging stations, designated workstations and modern furniture.
These touches “will all come together to create a travel experience parallel with some of the newest airports in the country,” Sedelmeier said. Art pieces placed around the building will convey Waco’s diverse history.
The airport will remain open and operational during construction.
Mark Flewelling, who will serve as Hensel Phelps’ project manager in Waco, said the job will include selective demolition, not to be confused with the battering a prop made of drywall took during and after the ceremony.
Hensel Phelps’ website reveals a coast-to-coast resume, including assignments at Love Field, El Paso International Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.
“Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we are rated No. 1,” said Flewelling, mentioning Hensel Phelps’ expertise in aviation-related projects.
Flewelling said a crew numbering about 25 will carry out tasks daily during the construction process. He said Hensel Phelps will take steps to shield work from the flying public, not wanting to become an annoyance.
Airport director Joel Martinez said enplanements at Waco Regional have surged, though they have not reached pre-pandemic numbers from 2019.
Sedelmeier said the city learned Friday that American Eagle on Aug. 17 will add a sixth daily flight between Waco and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Eagle flew one flight daily during the worst of the pandemic.
Meek said Waco continues to pursue a second commuter airline, giving the traveling public another option flying to and from Waco.
Martinez said the search “has become my full-time job now.”
Waco has allocated $5.9 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds toward the terminal upgrades. Another $2.3 million will come from the Airport Improvement Program, while Waco Regional Airport cash reserves will cover the $509,938 balance.
Renderings presented the Waco City Council show a “welcome lane” that will link the main terminal to other areas within the building. They also envision a children’s play area and a designated lounge area. The security check area will become larger to accommodate more travelers.
New floors, walls and ceilings will feature whites, neutral colors and woods. Bathroom renderings show white stalls, walls and counters.
Myriam Camargo with CaCo Architecture told the council the design would modernize a facility not renovated since 1999.