CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids business community is making an appeal to the Federal Aviation Administration for a replacement air traffic control tower at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce sent a letter last week to the agency saying the tower is holding up expansion and is outdated. The tower opened in 1963.

Rick Baker, the president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said the location of the tower is preventing future projects that would help accommodate more passengers.

“It’s impeding some of the potential growth that we would like to have at our airport,” Baker said. “Because of the sightline from one of the runways, even expanding the parking ramp impedes that sightline and so it prohibits the construction of a new parking ramp to accommodate additional vehicles.”

Baker says while the technology has been upgraded, the building itself is outdated and needs to be modernized.

“There has been tremendous amount of growth in number of passengers and the number of airplanes coming in and out of the airport over the years and yet the tower where we control all that traffic has remained the same,” Baker said.

The chamber of commerce says replacing the tower is an important step in upgrading the airport and that has an impact on the local economy.

“Our business leaders and the people that work for them and their customers to be able to access Grand Rapids and for them to access the world is really important,” Baker said.

The organization sent the letter to FAA administrator Billy Nolen asking for funding from the $3 billion earmarked for airport improvements in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The request was signed with the support of dozens of companies and local organizations.

“We identified this as a community — a collaboration of organizations along with the airport — identified this as one that is really important to us as a region to continue to be able to grow as well,” Baker said.

The airport says it appreciates the community support and the project is needed to accommodate forecasted passenger growth. A site study has already been completed to locate the best location to build a new tower.

“Now the next piece is to actually invest in the design and then invest in the construction, all of which takes years to do and so if we’re going to get it done and be able to continue our growth we want to get it started,” Baker said.

“Relocating the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower remains the top federal priority for the Airport Authority – to the benefit of the greater West Michigan Community. We continue to engage in conversations and strategic initiatives to support this relocation. Recently, this project was identified as one of the top 12 ‘transformational projects’ of high priority for the region. We are grateful to our community partners who have supported our efforts to relocate the ATCT, which will make room for diverse terminal-area developments, such as additional tenant hangars and more parking, to accommodate forecasted passenger growth.”

Tory Richardson, CEO and president of Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority