San Antonio city leaders expressed optimism Feb. 15 about preliminary concepts for a new terminal that San Antonio International Airport (SAT) officials plan to complete in 2028 to enhance the airport facility and to help accommodate current and projected air passenger growth patterns.

A team that includes city staff, architecture and design firms Corgan and Lake|Flato Architects, and airport/transportation planners from Kimley-Horn briefed the City Council on the airport’s terminal development program.

According to project team representatives, the new terminal will add 17 gates at the north side airport, six of which will accommodate both domestic and wide-body international flights. The plan also adds more than 850,000 square feet of terminal space, which will make the new terminal larger than the 610,277 square feet currently offered at existing terminals A and B combined.

City officials said they and their project consultants are 15% through the overall design phase, adding that the terminal development—presently estimated costing $1 billion—is central to the city's long-term vision of upgrading the overall airport experience for various types of air travelers.

City Manager Erik Walsh called the new airport terminal the most important capital project in San Antonio’s history.

“I’m confident in the team we’ve put together, and we are ready to make this expansion a reality. A modern, vibrant airport makes travel easier for our residents, while also streamlining business travel and attracting more tourism to San Antonio. This modernization of our airport is essential as we expand and add new air service options,” Walsh said in a statement.

The preliminary terminal development plan includes a landscaped, riparian paseo between the curb and the terminal referencing the River Walk experience and sharing the story of San Antonio’s creeks and spring-fed waterways.

The airport enhancement plan also calls for outdoor courtyards, 41,000 square feet of new concessions space, more than 29,000 square feet of available club lounge space, larger seating areas at each gate, a modernized Federal Inspections Service area, and roadway improvements to increase traffic flow and remove congestion along a curb front that will nearly double in length.

The city is also assessing needs in the existing Terminal A, airport officials said. Additionally, the city will look to incorporate public art and environmental sustainability into the new terminal development, Walsh said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the expansion is long overdue and will strengthen the San Antonio airport’s competitiveness in the aviation industry.

According to city leaders, local residents, business owners and regular air travelers using the airport frequently voice a need for modernization and expansion at a facility located in one of the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing cities.

“This expanded facility will accommodate current and future air service expansion to meet our community’s constantly growing demand through 2040 and beyond,” Nirenberg said in a statement. “We’re putting San Antonio on the map with every step of this much-needed project. We’re building a world-class airport to give people more options domestically and internationally.”

Walsh and airport director Jesus Saenz said it will take at least another year for the city to develop the terminal development plan budget and arrive at a final cost.

Saenz added that, at the very least, the city will have to issue new debt and use funds from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help finance the new terminal and other airport improvements.

Walsh said there are numerous factors that will affect the final cost, including more detailed designs, negotiations with the airlines and an analysis of the financial capacity of the airport and the city.

Saenz said the design phase, too, is anticipated to take the rest of 2023.

“If all goes to plan, we’ll put shovels in the ground around this time next year. When people step off a plane at SAT, there will be no question where they’ve arrived. The thoughtful way nature is being incorporated into the design will make them feel welcome, and their experience getting through the airport will be even easier than it is now,” Saenz said in a statement.

District 8 City Council Member Manny Pelaez said it is time to discuss enhance such city assets as the international airport as a means to elevate San Antonio’s overall standing as a growing metropolitan area that embraces the future and its past.

“We’re the seventh-largest city [in the country], we’re a world-class city and we haven’t acted like it for a long time, and I’m really excited that we’re finally having this conversation,” Pelaez told his council colleagues.

District 9 Council Member John Courage, who represents the airport area, said he hopes the new construction and improvements—including expansion of service offerings—will help to demonstrate San Antonio and its airport as more than just a pass-through place for air travelers. He also said the airport expansion and service improvements should make the entire airport experience more accessible and easier for all types of travelers, including business travelers.

“Those are more of the things I’m going to want to see detailed and shown. I think those are the things that will help us become the airport where businesses will say, ‘Hey, that’s great. Help me to get to where I need to go and quickly and let’s get what I need,'” he said.

Local business advocacy groups such as the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and greater:SATX Regional Economic Partnership both expressed satisfaction with preliminary plans for the new airport terminal and future growth there.

Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of greater:SATX, said the terminal development program, along with the San Antonio airport’s other expansion and improvement plans, will help position the San Antonio region for greater corporate growth, ultimately leading to more job opportunities for San Antonians.

“I am grateful to our city leaders for coming together to grow one of San Antonio’s most important assets, and I am proud of our continued collaboration and alignment to prioritize these investments to support San Antonio’s growth,” Saucedo-Herrera said.

San Antonio Chamber Board Chair Katie Harvey said new terminal development and other airport upgrades are critical toward helping the local commercial community to attract and retain businesses and workforce talent.

“We applaud the city of San Antonio and the San Antonio Airport System for this bold move and innovative thinking to improve our connectivity, enhance the traveler experience for locals and visitors alike and set the stage for SAT to become one of the premier airports in the United States,” Harvey said.