Lewiston-Denver flights get a shift

Feb. 13—United Airlines flights will leave Lewiston heading to Denver at 5:33 a.m. and arrive from the Mile High City at 10:15 p.m. starting April 1.

The change for the nonstop flights between Lewiston and Denver was announced at a Lewiston City Council meeting Monday.

It is a key part of a deal being negotiated to maintain the service and is intended to help make the route more profitable. The flights presently arrive and leave midday.

The city is working on a minimum revenue guarantee agreement with United, but hasn't yet received a draft document from the airline, said Lewiston Mayor Dan Johnson.

The update on the agreement came at a meeting in which the city council voted to pursue a sale of the Bollinger Building to a Seattle-area developer after the first potential buyer took a step back over concerns about parking.

With the United agreement, the city has to handle a number of issues before it is finalized, but the flights will continue while that work occurs, Johnson said.

The state of Idaho generally allows cities to enter into contracts with airlines, but "careful consideration" must be given regarding the structure and details to avoid running "afoul" of state and federal rules, he said.

"The Idaho State Legislature has previously declared that the operation of airports is a public necessity exercised for a public purpose," Johnson said.

The city is seeking guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration about rules the city has to adhere as a co-owner of the airport with Nez Perce County, Johnson said.

One prohibits payments from airport revenue for providing air service and another requires the city to treat all airport users that use the airport in the same or a similar way in a uniform manner.

"We've been diligently researching this matter and attempting to get concrete answers from the FAA," Johnson said.

United is one of two commercial passenger airlines serving the Lewiston airport. The other is Delta, which has direct flights to Salt Lake City and Seattle that are not subsidized.

The Salt Lake City flights were introduced with a yearlong minimum revenue guarantee agreement, similar to the one under discussion now for the Denver flights. The city contributed a small portion, but about 90% of the money was from a federal grant.

United is seeking a minimum revenue guarantee agreement for the Denver-Lewiston flights after it lost $5.5 million in 2023 on the route.

The most the city would pay would be $4.03 million for one year, but that amount could be significantly less if the flights are used more.

The new schedule that starts April 1 is anticipated to improve numbers by making it easier for passengers to catch flights to other destinations in Denver. It is also expected to limit instances when passengers have to be pulled from flights because temperatures are too hot for the planes to fly at full capacity.

In another matter, an offer of $130,000 — $5,000 more than the list price — has surfaced for the Bollinger Building that used to be home to the Lewiston Civic Theatre, said Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Tengono.

The council voted to accept a letter of intent to purchase the Bollinger Building from Myron Gemmer, a Seattle area developer.

Gemmer has proof of funds, visited Lewiston once and been discussing the possible acquisition for 1 1/2 months, said Gary Bergen of the Silver Creek Real Estate Group that is representing the city.

"He's got a lot of experience in the Seattle area developing everything from older buildings to gas stations," Bergen said. "He does not have an immediate plan, but there's definitely interest in the building."

The city of Lewiston took ownership of the Bollinger Building on Normal Hill in 2017 after its former owner, the Lewiston Civic Theatre, was unable to afford repairs.

The city has been grappling with what to do with it ever since.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.