Big Airport project wrapping up

October 24, 2009
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While many have called it a parking ramp project the last two years, officials at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport describe the work as a terminal area improvement project that features a new, four-level covered parking facility.

And rightfully so.

Work on the $118 million project is set to finish this week and a dedication ceremony has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Of the total construction cost, $70 million was spent on the 4,900-space parking garage that connects to the airport terminal building with covered skybridges. The remaining $48 million has gone to upgrading the terminal itself.

The dedication ceremony will take place on the westerly skybridge, but chances are fairly good that airport customers may have access to the new ramp in mid-November, before the project is officially christened.

“We could do what we call a soft opening with a press release but no ribbon-cutting or dedication, just because it’s ready. If it’s ready, we’re going to open it before the dedication,” said James Koslosky, GFIA executive director, who has been at the airport since 1991.

“We did that with the terminal remodeling back in 2000. We actually finished about two or three months before we brought Jerry Ford in and did a dedication. If everything tests out, that’s great and we’ll open it sooner. If not, it will be Dec. 1,” he added.

Koslosky said the parking structure will mean a lot to the airport’s clients as it will be the first time they have covered parking and protection from what often can be nasty winter weather.

“From the day I walked in here in 1991, all I heard from our customers is why don’t we have covered parking at the airport given the elements that we have here. It took us a while to get to a level of activity where we could financially support it,” said Koslosky.

The airport is a self-sustaining business enterprise that doesn’t receive financial support from Kent County, so capital improvements have to be covered through operations. And operations didn’t reach the level the airport needed to pay for the bond to cover that debt until GFIA first served 2 million passengers over the course of one year, which happened in 2004.

Reaching that mark was a major achievement, considering the then Kent County Airport ushered fewer than 231,000 passengers through its gates in its first full year of operation 40 years earlier.

Then in 2007, the same year the aeronautics board approved the current project, the airport served its 50 millionth customer since opening the runways in 1963.

“We had to reach certain levels in order to justify moving ahead with a project like this,” said Koslosky. “This is more than a parking garage. There are a lot of elements in this project.”

The elements he referred to include all new sewer, water, gas and electric utilities to the terminal area, new roads and new street landscaping around the terminal, a new canopy that runs along and over the terminal’s entrance, new skybridges to the terminal building, and an inter-modal facility for the Interurban Transit Partnership.

“That’s why it’s a terminal area improvement program that includes a parking structure. So the level of customer service here is just going to be phenomenal,” said Koslosky.

The Christman Co. has managed the project since work started on Sept. 9, 2007, and Koslosky said the Lansing-based contractor has done an exceptional job, especially with the airport staying open while demolition and construction was going on.

The work is on budget and on schedule. “We could open in a mid-November timeframe,” he said.

Besides the improvement project, Koslosky said another improvement that has landed at the airport was Allegiant Air. The carrier began flying from GFIA this year with non-stops to Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa, and added trips to Phoenix just a few weeks ago. Allegiant will begin flights to Ft. Lauderdale Nov. 13.

Koslosky said having Allegiant Air at the airport has turned into a good business deal for the Las Vegas-based carrier and for GFIA, and quite possibly a brighter future for both.

“We are their most successful single market that they have in their system. They have added, since they started in February, three other destinations, and they’re looking at others for this market because they’re flying full airplanes. They have a fare structure that competes very well with the legacy carriers that we have,” he said.

“So we’re pleased with that response and we told them they would get that kind of response. And we’re hoping that their success will help us in retaining our legacy carriers and attracting additional low-fare carriers to the market.”

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