Detroit Metro Airport Plans for New North Terminal

New terminal would be part of a $443 million project that completely overhauls airport's design


Detroit Metro Airport unveiled the new design for its $443-million North Terminal project Tuesday. The construction will erase every hint of the airport's existing decades-old terminals and complete efforts to modernize the entire complex by 2008.

All told, Metro Airport stands to be rebuilt this decade at a price tag of more than $1.8 billion. Northwest Airlines Inc. opened the $1.2-billion McNamara Terminal in February 2002 and is in the midst of a $175-million expansion of that operation.

The Wayne County Airport Authority unanimously approved a design concept that stamps out the vacant Marriott Hotel, the Davey Terminal and the Smith Terminal to make way for the new terminal. Smith's Concourse C, which had been part of the North Terminal in earlier designs, also will be torn down.

That means travelers can say good-bye to Smith's dimly lit hallways, low ceilings and cramped bathrooms.

"There are so many problems with it," said Airport Authority Chief Executive Officer Lester Robinson, who told San Francisco-based architectural firm Gensler to build the North Terminal without Concourse C. Robinson's comment, made at meeting Tuesday, drew an "amen" from Michael Glusac, the board's vice chairman.

When the North Terminal opens in 2008, the Berry Terminal will be razed, too. The new terminal will hold immigration services, which is currently housed in the Berry Terminal. The new immigration stop bumped the cost estimates of the project from $428 million to $443 million.

The new terminal -- which will house most of the airlines at the airport, except for the its dominant carrier Northwest Airlines -- will have a linear shape, more like the McNamara Terminal than the banks of gates at the Smith Terminal. The concept received approval from airport staff and the airlines. During the next three months, the airport will fill in the blanks, and come up with a more specific design for the new terminal.

The airport authority went for a concept dubbed "T" for traditional, which refers to the way passengers will move through the building. Travelers who are used to coming into the airport on the same floor as their gate, and picking up their luggage downstairs, will likely get used to the new airport quickly.

The two-story terminal will run a half-mile long, about half the length of the McNamara Terminal's Concourse A. There will be no train, such as the one inside Northwest's terminal.

At first, the North Terminal will hold 25 gates and later expand to 27 gates. A bridge will link the Blue Deck parking complex to the second floor. The North Terminal will have two security checkpoints, on either end of the terminal, which should make the walk to the gates feel shorter, said William Hartman, principal at Gensler, which is designing the new terminal.

Concessions will be placed throughout the terminal instead of in one central location.

Departing passengers will enter the airport on the second floor, the same level as the gates. Arriving passengers will pick up their bags on the first floor, which is a traditional airport design. Gensler had presented a design that placed baggage claim on the same floor as the gates and forced departing passengers to travel up one floor to reach their gate. The airlines, who wanted to ease the departure process, didn't like that idea.

Because that design is not common, the airport authority decided to stick with convention to help keep the project on time and on budget, said Airport Authority Chair Vernice Davis Anthony.

If the new terminal is as successful as the McNamara Terminal has been, Metro could become one of the nation's most efficient airports.

Metro was one of the worst in the nation until the McNamara Terminal opened. Now, the McNamara Terminal and Northwest rank high in most consumer and industry studies.

Travelers in 2003 ranked Metro No. 4 among 13 large U.S. airports and No. 6 worldwide in an annual consumer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power and Associates.