Danville Regional Renovates Terminal and Ramp

Danville Regional Renovates Terminal and Ramp
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

A new Caesars casino and hotel scheduled to open later this year near Danville Regional (DAN) has created a good news/bad news situation for the southern Virginia airport.

The good news is that it will undoubtedly attract more traffic to the general aviation facility, boosting both DAN’s bottom line and the overall regional economy. The bad news is that $8 million of renovations were needed to accommodate the expected traffic surge.

The main terminal was built in 1961 and required significant improvements, explains Airport Director Marc Adelman. “We renovated nearly everything inside our 14,388-square-foot terminal,” he comments.

Significant airside work also was needed, including a new canopy and entrance. The south ramp had deteriorated and had to be completely reconstructed. Phase One of the ramp project was completed in 2023. It involved reconstructing and paving the taxiway connections to the south ramp, and rubblizing the entire south ramp (510 feet by 425 feet), which was originally constructed more than 20 years ago.


Project: Terminal & Ramp Renovations

Location: Danville Regional Airport (in VA)

Annual Operations: 18,000

Cost for Ramp Improvements: $6 million

Funding: 82% FAA; 14.5% state; 3.5% city

Cost for Terminal Renovations: $2 million

Funding: 65% state; 35% city

Design: 4 months in summer 2021

Construction: March 2022-Oct. 2023 for both projects

Architectural Firm: Dewberry

Chief Contractor: Quality Construction of Danville

Electrical & Plumbing: Elliott Electric

HVAC Subcontractor: Centech Service

Flooring & Ceilings: Newcomb Carpet

Aluminum Canopy Wall: Piedmont Glass

Casework: Burr Fox Specialized Woodworking

Brick Pavers: West Landscaping

Canopy Subcontractor: Roofing Solutions of VA

Aluminum Composite Panels: W.H. Stovall

Gate Manufacturer: Stephens Pipe & Steel

Key Benefits of Terminal Renovations: Ability to accommodate additional passenger traffic; improved operational efficiency; enhanced aesthetic appeal

Key Benefits of Ramp Reconstruction: Improved pavement; more room for aircraft parking

Phase Two, paving the new ramp, is expected to be finished this summer.

“Once the new ramp project is done, we will have a new surface, and should be able to accommodate an additional 20 jet aircraft,” Adelman says.

This is important because parking capacity is an issue when Virginia International Raceway, just a few miles down the road, has big events. Currently, DAN only has room for 30 jets, so it occasionally has had to close the crosswind runway and use it for parking. “Having an extra 20 parking spots will help ease that pressure,” notes Adelman.

The airport’s parking capacity will really be tested after the new Caesars Virginia Casino Resort opens. The $600 million facility will include a large gaming area, 320-room hotel and a 2,500-seat entertainment venue, among other features. The casino is being built on the site of a former textile plant that closed in 2006.

Since the resort is located just a few miles west of the airport, Adelman anticipates a significant spike in airport operations, especially in 2025. “We estimate that our annual operations will increase by 11% or so,” he declares.

A temporary Caesars casino that opened at the site in May 2023 foreshadows the potential traffic. By the end of the year, it had generated $125.4 million in gaming revenue and around $7.5 million in city taxes.

A More Modern Design

The airport hired Dewberry, a national architectural firm with an office in Danville, for terminal planning and design. “We were tasked with improving the terminal to handle expected increases in passenger traffic, while maintaining an open and warm environment typically afforded to an FBO setup,” says Larry Hasson, an associate principal with the company. “Right now, the airport is used to handling groups of eight or 10 people who come in on a private aircraft for meetings just for the day. But with the new casino opening, it’s possible that 50 people or more could arrive at the same time on a charter flight. We needed to reinvent the current facility’s flow to achieve these changes.”

Dewberry began planning in summer 2021 and stayed involved through construction, which ended in October 2023. Hasson was able to personally visit the worksite several times a week because he lives nearby.

He and his staff first developed plans to rebuild the airside canopy, where arriving passengers enter the terminal. The architects added bright red ceiling soffits, with steel beams that extend outward, shaped like airplane wings. They moved the entrance and exit doors closer to each other, to define key access points. At the request of the Danville city manager, they used the same type of red brick pavers that are used on the sidewalks in the historic River District of downtown Danville.

In the terminal, the biggest challenge involved upgrading the bathrooms, which had only three stalls and not enough room for a single piece of luggage. “Frankly, they were almost unusable,” Hasson relates.

Designers consequently gutted the bathrooms and started from scratch, adding new plumbing and fixtures as well as a new bathroom with shower facilities for pilots.

In the main lobby, designers expanded the passenger waiting area to improve comfort for individual customers and large groups alike. The old plastic rack chairs common in many airports were removed and replaced with new plush chairs and couches.

“We tried to soften that room a bit,” Hasson remarks. “We added new lighting and framed images of regional tourist sites.” The dominant photo is a large aerial image of the River District, and a new monitor in the lobby promotes tourism activities and local economic development projects.

Other elements for the project included:

  • Dividing the existing pilot lounge into two sections. The larger public area has computers and a television; a separate “quiet room” allows pilots to shut the shades and relax in reclining chairs.
  • Renovating the kitchen with new appliances and countertops. In addition, a new wall was built to improve access. Before, people had to pass through one of the conference rooms to enter the kitchen.
  • Redesigning all three conference rooms, with better lighting and local artwork.

Security enhancements include a wide automatic gate so large tour buses can enter/exit the ramp area. The airport also implemented a modern card access system to restrict entry to the building and terminal ramp area.

The fixed base operation (FBO) is run by Averett University, which also has an aeronautics program based at the airport. Designers improved access to the FBO office in the terminal by modifying an existing wall and adding a sliding glass door to the larger passenger waiting area. This not only helps FBO staff interact with customers, but also expands their waiting area.

Minor Construction Challenges

Construction in the terminal started in March 2022 and was completed in three phases to minimize operational disruptions. Work began on the north side, where the FBO office is located. While crews remodeled that area, personnel worked out of a conference room.

The second phase upgraded the south side of the terminal, including the restrooms, pilot lounge and conference rooms. During the last phase, crews rebuilt the outside canopy.

Not surprisingly, the building’s age presented challenges.  ”The old concrete and existing drains in the bathrooms had deteriorated, so we had to replace those,” says Allen Smith, project manager for Quality Construction. “There was a one-foot-deep void under the old concrete slabs, so we had to fill that hole.”

Another issue was old wiring. “We did not know where all the wires went, and what was used and not used. That took some time to address,” Smith recalls.

Most of the construction went smoothly and has generated a lot of compliments, he adds. “I think the new canopy leaves a great first impression for arriving passengers. It especially pops at night.”

Two significant aspects of the terminal project went well beyond aesthetic improvements: a complete roof replacement and the installation of a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. The latter was finished a full year before the rest of the terminal work began.

Valuable State Partner

The Virginia Department of Aviation was a key funding partner for both of DAN’s recent infrastructure projects. (See Facts & Figures section on Page 59 for specifics.)

 “We think that general aviation airports such as Danville Regional are extremely valuable to a community,” states Department Director Greg Campbell. “We encourage capital improvement projects and development to facilitate commerce.”     

Campbell praises Adelman and other airport staff for the final product. “They did a great job,” he affirms. “The terminal building was beyond its useful life. They modernized it and gave it better functionality. It is more secure, and more user-friendly.”

Campbell is especially enthusiastic about the remodeled conference rooms. “Traveling around the state and visiting various GA airports, my staff and I have found that conference rooms are especially useful for these airports,” he remarks. “In many cases, officials from a given company will fly into an airport for just a day-long meeting, and then fly home. So the improvements made in the conference rooms at DAN will help lure businesspeople there in the future.”

The money spent to modernize the terminal and ramps at DAN was well spent, he adds. “Companies looking to expand into a certain region will use the local airport to visit potential sites for corporate growth, which will bring good-paying jobs into the region,” Campbell reasons. “I think the improvements at DAN are sure to leave a good first impression.”

A new training center and hangar for Averett University is currently under development.

More New Development

As the airport readies for new casino traffic, one of its main tenants is also increasing its footprint on the airfield. Averett University, a local private college that bases its aeronautics program and flight school at the airport, started managing the on-field FBO two years ago. In addition to pumping approximately 207,000 gallons of fuel last year, Averett Aviation serviced about 2,600 planes.

The university has 120 aeronautics majors who are learning the business of aviation and completing their flight training at DAN. The program is expected to grow to around 200 students in the next few years, with even more opportunities in the near future.

On Jan. 30, 2024, DAN received approval from the city manager to begin development of a 13,200-square-foot aviation training facility and an adjacent 6,400-square-foot hangar. Averett University and Danville Community College will share space in the new buildings, with room for both aviation maintenance and flight instruction training.

If the projects finish on schedule, both buildings will be up and running by summer 2025. Adelman is optimistic about what the new training facility and the new casino will mean to the airport. “With our remodeled terminal and reconstructed ramp area, we are now well equipped to handle the increased traffic we are forecasting in the next few years,” he concludes.

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