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Austin's legal bill to oust operator of airport's South Terminal approaches $1 million

A pilot wearing a protective face mask in the cockpit of an Allegiant Air airplane at the South Terminal
Gabriel C. Pérez
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KUT
The South Terminal is where people catch flights on ultra-low-cost carriers Allegiant and Frontier.

The cost of Austin's legal fight to reclaim and demolish the airport's South Terminal — where people catch Allegiant and Frontier flights — just grew to $847,000.

The Austin City Council today approved paying corporate law firm Winstead PC another $600,000 on top of $247,000 it already committed.

Lonestar Airport Holdings signed a lease in 2016 to run the South Terminal for at least 30 years. The company says it spent about $15 million in renovations plus another $1 million or so to accommodate Allegiant moving a base of operations to Austin.

The South Terminal is a one-story metal corrugated building with an Art Deco vibe and outdoor food court. Passengers board planes on a specialized staircase.

Ultra-low-cost carriers are attracted to the South Terminal because the operational costs per passenger are sharply lower, according to Lonestar Airport Holdings CEO Jeff Pearse.

Austin's airport officials want to oust Lonestar and raze the South Terminal to make way for a sweeping expansion of the airport. A new concourse with at least 10 additional gates would replace the South Terminal.

An illustration showing the airport's expansion plans
City of Austin Department of Aviation
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Airport officials want to replace the South Terminal with a new concourse linked to the Barbara Jordan Terminal by a walkway.

Officials at Austin's city-owned airport have been reluctant to speak publicly about the ongoing legal negotiations. But they have expressed in detail their concerns about the airport's ability to meet record passenger demand without new infrastructure.

But Lonestar doesn't want to leave.

"It’s troubling that the city would authorize nearly $1 million in legal fees to close the South Terminal," Pearse said in a statement. "We have the capital, the talent and the will to remain a partner to the City and the Department of Aviation – helping to fund terminal development and prepare ABIA to meet future demand for air travel."

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Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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