Hartsfield-Jackson's International Airport's new international terminal is now set to open in two years. The airport is completing the terminal under the pressure of tight budgets and issues involving the design, including negotiations with main tenant Delta Air Lines and bond financing.
Friday, November 1, 2013
By Kelly YamanouchiHartsfield-Jackson's International Airport's new international terminal, now set to open in two years, will be one of the first impressions of Atlanta or even the United States for many travelers.
Making it a good one is a challenge, especially when the airport is completing the terminal under the pressure of tight budgets and issues involving the design, negotiations with main tenant Delta Air Lines and bond financing.
The international terminal, named for the late former Mayor Maynard H. Jackson Jr., is touted by the airport as the "new global gateway for the city of Atlanta." It will consist of a terminal and a 12-gate concourse, totaling 1.2 million square feet and all connected to the existing airport on the end of Concourse E, where most international flights now operate. That will provide much more direct access for international passengers, who now must ride the train from the main terminal.
A rendering shows a spacious, open terminal with large skylights, trees and high ceilings.
"It's a very bright and airy space," said Hartsfield-Jackson assistant general manager Dan Molloy, who oversees the international terminal project. "It should be very pleasing and functional."
Design and cost a controversy
|Photo from www.atlanta-airport.com|
Construction of the basic terminal structure is nearly complete and the work on the interior is beginning, following years of fighting over the design and cost of the project.
An airport plays a role in "communicating the community's image to the rest of the world," said Jeff Loeschen of the Architectural Alliance at a recent national symposium in Atlanta on airport planning, design and construction. "It's a first and last impression."
But, said airport manager Ben DeCosta,"We're all under the same pressure to meet the demands of airlines for efficient projects and the demands of communities and the demands of businesses."
The original design in 2001 was for a $1.2 billion project, which was deemed too expensive by the airport and Delta. The second design was originally estimated to cost $983 million, including a giant glass wall with a view of the Atlanta skyline, but that increased over the following years). The airport eventually fired the design team, which then sued in a case that continues today.
In the second round of designs, Molloy said the airport was not looking to make a big "architectural statement" with the building. "The first design did have a bigger, larger facade overall," he said. "We did downsize that, we simplified the glass curtain wall system." He said there will still be a view of the city skyline.
Delta demanded changes
Airlines -- which indirectly help pay for terminals through rents and fees -- have a big stake in holding down costs. Delta more than a year ago demanded $400 million in cuts to the international terminal project, which now is budgeted at $1.35 billion today due to delays and reworking.
"The changes we made are changes that will largely be invisible to the passenger, but would result in us being able to get the facility for a little less money," Molloy said. The design modifications included changes to the design of the parking deck, for example.
Delta has agreed to help the city seek bond financing for the project, an effort that the airport has been working on for more than a year. The city expects to finally go to market to sell bonds in the coming months.
Making Airport Attractive
It's not the first time Hartsfield-Jackson has faced balancing utilitarian and cost-effective with attractive and inviting.
The current version of Atlanta's airport was designed in the 1970s and opened in the 1980s, said Robert Kennedy, assistant general manager of operations at Hartsfield-Jackson. Until the atrium was added to the main terminal in the early 1990s, the design was very utilitarian, he said. Domestic concourses also got makeovers to add a bit of style during the '90s.
"They listened to the customers," Kennedy said of the atrium project.
This time, Molloy said management is trying to serve both form and function from the ground up.
"We have a facility that is a very welcoming facility, one that will be a very good front door to Atlanta (for) the rest of the world," he said. "At the same time, we're being very cost-efficient, very cost-effective."
Budget issues matter little to the end user, often a harried traveler who sees getting through the airport as a necessary hassle.
As Pat Askew, of Perkins + Will, said at the recent symposium, passengers want to get in and out of airports as quickly as possible, but "you can get stranded at the airport, and then it becomes important" to make it a place that people can enjoy.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport makes itself attractive to travelers with art exhibits around the terminal and concourses, such as the collection of stone sculptures from Zimbabwe in the lower-level walkway between the T concourse and Concourse A.
"We're looking at creating a sense of place, using some art to do that," Hartsfield-Jackson assistant general manager Dan Molloy said. It can "maybe help the passenger relax -- give them a distraction they can focus on, if you will, while they wait."
The airport plans $5 million worth of art for the international terminal, including a large-scale project of "functional art" -- a 1,000-foot wall of glass panels laminated with patterns of tree bark along the tunnel between Concourse E and the international terminal. Its function will be to divide passengers who have been cleared by U.S. authorities from those who haven't.
One of the key benefits of the international terminal will be allowing arriving passengers to avoid rechecking bags before leaving the airport, as they now must do in order to get baggage to the main terminal.
Functional art allows the airport to get multiple benefits out of the requirement in the public art master plan that to set aside 1 percent of certain monies including airport construction funds for art.
"It is a factor that we do consider," Molloy said. "If we didn't put this piece of artwork in, we would have to do something else for a wall."