Bozeman Yellowstone Int’l Builds Rental Car Garage to Meet Growing Tourist Demand

Bozeman Yellowstone Int’l Builds Rental Car Garage to Meet Growing Tourist Demand
Mindy Hamlin
Published in: 

Winter is a busy time at Bozeman Yellowstone International (BZN). Parka-clad passengers from around the world fly into the southwestern Montana airport with snowboards, skis and other outdoor gear to enjoy the rugged Rocky Mountain region. 

Many drive on to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Ski Resort, Bridger Bowl Ski Area and other popular tourist spots. This year, BZN passengers are picking up their rental vehicles from a new four-level garage with direct access to/from the main terminal. 

The airport spent $34 million to build the new facility and will recoup 90% of its costs through concession facility charges the rental companies collect from customers. 


Project: Rental Car Garage

Location: Bozeman Yellowstone (MT) Int’l Airport

Size: 440,000 sq. ft.; 4 floors 

Parking Capacity: 1,100 spaces (include 100 for public parking) 

Cost: $34 million

Funding: General airport revenue; 90% will be recouped via customer facility charges

Project Timeline: Nov. 2016-July 2019

Car Rental Tenants: 8

Engineering Design: Morrison Maierle

Architecture: A&E Architects

Parking Consultant: Walker Consultants

General Contractor: Sletten Construction Companies

Concrete Supplier: Knife River Concrete Supply

Conveying Equipment: KONE Inc.

Fire Suppression: Bozeman Fire Protection LLC

Masonry: Aune Masonry Inc.

Metals: Terry Bannan Construction; Arch Metals Inc.

Plumbing/HVAC: Central Plumbing & Heating

Signage: Signs of Montana

Luggage Cart Rental: Thompson Contract  

As the area grows in popularity with tourists, so does the number of passengers flying into and out of BZN. “We are one of the fastest-growing airports in the country,” reports Airport Director Brian Sprenger. “Last year (2018) we grew by 11.9%. So far in 2019, our passenger numbers are up 17.4% compared to the same period last year.”

With traffic volume outpacing airport forecasts, BZN officials have been tackling major projects sooner than expected to meet the growing demand. A new facility for the airport’s eight rental car companies was at the top of the list. 

“As we were looking at different challenges in parking, the one that kept coming up was tremendous traffic growth in our rental car area,” explains Sprenger. “We looked at building a paid parking facility as well as a dedicated rental car garage. In the end, we decided to build primarily a rental car garage.“

The airport, which has 2,000 short- and long-term parking spaces, also decided to use the project to gauge the viability of covered public parking—an amenity BZN or any other airport in Montana had not previously offered. The new rental car garage includes 100 public parking spaces on the first floor to test the community’s interest in paying for more convenient, but more expensive, parking. A spot in the new covered garage costs $18 per day vs. $9 or $12 per day in airport’s surface lots. 

“We want to know what people who live here are willing to pay for the increased convenience,” says Sprenger. “Ultimately, we think we will probably grow into a second parking garage, so we wanted to take this first step.”

Market-Specific Design

BZN turned to Morrison-Maierle, its long-time engineering and design firm from Helena, MT, for help executing the project. 

“One of the biggest challenges we faced was building a new parking garage on land that the rental car agencies and the airport were currently using, while minimizing the impacts on passengers,” says Project Manager Mark Maierle. 

In addition to relocating roads and rental car ready lots, the team created a covered walkway about the length of a football field to protect passengers from snow and rain. 

The airport was clear that it wanted to keep the distance between the parking garage and terminal short, notes Maierle. 

“We really weren’t enthusiastic about having shuttles,” explains Sprenger. “As a strong leisure market, we have twice as much luggage as a business market. It would have created a lot of issues for passengers to have to load all of their luggage onto and off of a shuttle van.”

To help BZN navigate these challenges, Morrison-Maierle brought Walker Consultants onto the project team. Together, the firms worked with the airport and rental car agencies to determine the best design for the garage.

“Based on the airport and rental car agencies’ needs, we evaluated multiple parking layouts before landing at the preferred alternatives,” says Kirk Taylor, director of Design in Walker’s Denver office. 

Because the rental car company locations were not pre-selected, the garage design had to ensure flexibility. 

“Everyone wanted the first floor, because it was seen as the most convenient to the terminal,” notes Taylor. To ensure convenience on every level, the Walker team recommended an express ramp design. 

“The express ramp makes it so drivers only have to take one and a half turns to get to the main floor,” he explains. “We wanted the quick turnaround process to be as fluid as possible, so we used one-way flow to make it intuitive. Drivers don’t get lost in the facility.”

Many parking garages, Taylor points out, employ a single-threaded helix, which requires a 360-degree revolution to get from one level to the next. 

“The way this ramp is set up, you go up in a straight line and turn,” he explains. “In one 360-degree move, you have gone up three levels. This design moves vehicles in and out more efficiently.”

An express ramp is not the building’s only unique feature. In addition to being Montana’s largest parking garage, the new airport facility also features something unusual for parking garages: a top floor that is covered. The roof provides protection from winters that deliver up to 100 inches of snow, notes Sprenger. 

The back façade of the garage is draped in wire mesh. “It provides an aesthetic appeal and prevents people from jumping over the airfield fence and entering the sterile area,” explains Maierle. 

The garage was also designed and built fiber-ready, to ensure that infrastructure is in place for future technology investments. “Rental car agencies have the flexibility to install their preferred systems,” notes Maierle. 

Testing Customer Preferences

While 90% of the spaces in the garage are dedicated to rental cars, the airport set aside 100 “premium” spaces to test customers’ interested in paying more for covered parking close to the terminal. 

“Covered parking is not something local passengers have been asking for,” says Sprenger. “Montanians are hearty. They are used to cold and used to snow, so paying more for covered parking may not be attractive to them. For us, this is a good way to dabble in it and see what the demand is for a parking garage.”

With the “rental car/test garage” complete, the airport has begun work on its next major project: a terminal expansion budgeted at $25.5 million and an apron expansion budgeted at $4.5 million. 

“The parking garage was a good project,” reflects Sprenger. “We are happy with how it turned out. It was our single focus, but then we moved on and it is like it always existed.” 


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