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Grand Rapids airport plans $90 million expansion, 300 new jobs

Washington, August 29, 2019

The Grand Rapids airport plans a three-development expansion to accommodate continued passenger and airline growth, beginning with a $90 million project to add eight gates and create 300 jobs.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has seen double-digit passenger growth for the past 19 months, with an increase of 16 percent to a record more than 3.26 million passengers last year, it said in a Wednesday news release. Forecasts show steady passenger growth averaging 3.5 percent annually through 2040, underscoring the need for the expansion, it said.

"Project Elevate will change the skyline of the airport," Dan Koorndyk, chair of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority Board, said in the release. "It sets the stage for not only the airport's growth, but our region's as a whole."

Building construction is set to begin in the spring on the addition to Concourse A, which will add eight gates and new amenities. Concourse A work is expected to create more than 125 construction jobs and more than 300 permanent positions.

Airport officials are seeking federal approval for the second development of Project Elevate, which proposes to add a $24 millionfederal inspection station capable of screening international commercial passenger flights, the release stated. The third phase would be to relocate the air traffic control tower to make way for projects such as new tenant hangars and parking.

Project Elevate would be paid for with a combination of federal and state grants, municipal bonds issued by the airport and user fees, the airport authority said. The new control tower would be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Through this monumental transformation, we will create world-class facilities that will enhance the travel experience while providing crucial behind-the-scenes infrastructure needed to meet our growth," Airport Authority Board Chair Dan Koorndyk said in the release. "Our airfield still has plenty of capacity, but our terminal has a number of choke points. Project Elevate will address these issues, building on the success of our Gateway Transformation to create an airport ready to serve the modern passenger."

Already underway is the $47 million Gateway Transformation project, which began in 2014 and is to wrap up in the spring. The project raised more than $17 million from the business and philanthropic communities in West Michigan to support a complete remodel of the terminal and the Gateway to West Michigan to enhance the passenger experience, the release said.

The first phase created a centralized security checkpoint, a new post-security marketplace featuring restaurants and retail outlets, as well as pre- and post-security nursing rooms, three new post-security business centers, a refreshed pre-security business center and the new President Gerald R. Ford Tribute room in the Grand Hall.

The second phase, which is currently underway, focuses on ticketing, baggage screening, baggage claim and other "front of house" areas. A key feature of the second phase includes relocating TSA baggage screening equipment from the airline queuing areas and adding restrooms, dining and beverage options near the baggage claim.

"With record numbers of people traveling through Ford Airport and West Michigan's strong economy continuing to create new opportunities, the Ford Airport is at a crucial intersection," U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said in the release.

New airline, leadership changes

Also Wednesday, newly relaunched regional airline Midwest Express announced nonstop flights from its Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport base to Grand Rapids. The airline did not announce when the flights will start or how much fares will be.

"The drive from West Michigan to Milwaukee is not an easy one around the lake, and what could take up to six hours in a car, will now be a convenient 40-minute flight, thanks to the relaunch of Midwest Express, and the service they will offer between Grand Rapids and Milwaukee," Brian Picardat, interim president and CEO at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, said in a news release.

Leadership at the airport is coming, too.

Last week, the airport authority board announced it had selected Torrance Richardson as the new president and CEO of the airport.

Richardson was most recently executive vice president and COO of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, which oversees three airports in central Ohio.

He replaces James R. Gill, who resigned Nov. 30 for "personal reasons" and to "pursue opportunities in the private sector."

This article originally appeared in Crain's Detroit Business on August 29th, 2019.

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