In recent years, large-scale highway and commuter-rail projects have dominated the transportation landscape in Utah, but last summer, after many years of what might be called a long-delayed takeoff, the Salt Lake City Dept. of Airports (SLCDA) broke ground on the largest project in its history—a $1.8-billion complete replacement of the Salt Lake City International Airport Terminal.
"We estimate this project will create 24,000 jobs and pour $3.3 billion worth of value into the state's economy," says Natalie Gochnour, a member of the airport's advisory board and the associate dean of the David Eccles College of Business at the University of Utah.
For its leadership in undertaking a project of this size and scope, and managing its progress, ENR Mountain States has named SLCDA the 2015 Intermountain Owner of the Year.
"This project has been thought about and developed probably since the early 1990s," says Maureen Riley, executive director for the SLCDA. "We've been close to proceeding before, and it was always halted. But this time everything was in order to go ahead."
As a division of Salt Lake City Corp., the SLCDA operates with an executive director and a nine-member advisory board appointed by the Salt Lake City mayor and approved by the city council. The board oversees operations at airports across the Salt Lake Valley—from the South Valley airport in West Jordan, about 14 miles south and west of Salt Lake City, to the Tooele Valley Airport, 32 miles from the capital city.
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLCIA), five miles west of downtown, is the largest airport in the state, hosting eight airlines and serving as a regional hub for Delta Airlines. SLCIA handled more than 20 million travelers last year and around 900 airline arrivals and departures daily, making it the 27th busiest airport in the country, according to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. Like other U.S. airport authorities, the SLCDA receives no tax revenue from the city. It is funded through fees paid by the airlines that use the facility—fees on tickets and rent paid by vendors, including rental car agencies—as well as federal grants. According to Riley, the department has been debt free for the past several years, allowing it to build cash reserves for the terminal redevelopment program (TRP).
"We will also issue airport revenue bonds that we'll pay back from future airport revenues," Riley says.
Last summer, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on the new terminal site, only a few hundred feet south and west of the current terminal. Flanked by officials from Delta Airlines and airport board members, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker praised the planning of the project and said it is an indicator of the city's rising profile in the Intermountain region.
"This will all be accomplished without additional expense to taxpayers," said Becker. "The project certainly reflects our status as an ever-growing crossroads and a regional leader."
Gochnour says the timing was finally right for the TRP. "This has been anticipated by the community for many years. While it has taken time to get it started, there has been an extraordinary amount of planning and careful study," she says. "With a strong economy in Utah, it feels like the perfect time to invest in transportation infrastructure."
The new terminal, parking structure and physical plant will be built in phases to replace the current terminal. It is a collection of nearly 29 buildings, some nearly 60 years old, that have been connected, renovated and altered over the years. The new terminal should be completed and ready for use by 2018, with complete build-out scheduled for 2023.
San Francisco-based HOK Architecture is the lead design firm for the 1.7-million-sq-ft project. HOK has collaborated with numerous Salt Lake City architects in developing the final design for the facility, which will seek LEED Gold certification. In November 2013, the joint venture team of Atlanta-based Holder Construction and Big-D Construction of Salt Lake City (now known as HDJV) was selected as the contracting team, with Atlanta-based Making Projects Work serving as program director and the owner's representative in a fast-track, construction manager at-risk contract.
Beginning in the early 1990s, it was apparent to city officials that the airport needed major changes to keep it operating efficiently into the future. Leaders eyed 2001 to start the planning process, but the 9/11 attacks forced changes in airport design. By then, the focus had shifted solely to preparations for hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics.