New air terminal keeps Detroit on comeback trail

March 01, 2002 |

In the latest and largest example of the Motor City's ongoing renaissance, Northwest Airlines Feb. 24 opened its new $1.2 billion main terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The heart of an ongoing $2 billion expansion, the new Edward H. McNamara Terminal boasts a mile-long main concourse with indoor people-mover and a 10-level parking garage. It is named after the long-time Wayne County (Mich.) executive and local power broker who cut the deal with Northwest.

"Detroit is a city with a bright future," McNamara said at the opening. "This is another step forward, a chance for the world to see the progress (we) have made working together."

The new Northwest facility comes amid a flurry of other big-ticket developments that have injected new life into the metro area. In 2000, for example, the Detroit Tigers pro baseball team moved into a new downtown home at Comerica Park. And this fall, just across the street, the Detroit Lions pro football team will open their own new den at Ford Field.

At Metro Airport, the new four-level terminal consists of 97 gates on three concourses. The largest extends nearly a mile, and features a two-car indoor people-mover, plus nearly 1.5 miles of moving walkways. A below-grade tunnel, 800 feet long, connects the three concourses.

"The schedule was aggressive," says Michael Kerr, president of the project's general contractor Hunt Construction Group, Indianapolis. "All the work was done within a 34-month period."

Hunt followed the design of local architect-engineer SmithGroup, which envisioned the steel-and-glass terminal with an arc-shaped roof supported by an exposed king-post truss and framing system and covered with stainless steel panels. Northwest served as construction manager.

A flood early on in the project schedule and a failed electrical subcontractor were among the challenges Hunt had to overcome to meet its deadline, which originally had targeted last December. All in all, "I think we handled the project well," Kerr adds.

The CM and end-user agrees. Tom Gunn, Northwest's director of design, says his firm liked having the power to add to the project scope. "For instance, we made sure restrooms had enough fixtures, actually doubling the amount required by code," says Gunn.

Wayne County owns the terminal, with Northwest as its main tenant. Financing came from county bonds to be repaid from airport revenues generated by passenger facility charges. Those fees were raised last October from $3 per person to $4.50.

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