Will new airport terminal help Detroit’s image, economy take flight?

The media buzz surrounding the opening of Detroit Metro Airport’s new 97-gate terminal Feb. 24 is for good reason. Not only will the $1.2 billion project boost the Motor City’s image, but it also will serve as a catalyst for economic development. Indeed, the Edward H. McNamara Terminal/Northwest WorldGateway has already spawned the construction of a nearby 1,800-acre mixed-use business park.

"Detroit has been a major hub, but it’s been a crummy major hub. Now it’s going to be a first-class, maybe even a world-class gateway, on par with the great airports of North America in terms of the quality of the terminal," says Larry Hadley, mortgage banker and president of Hadley & Associates in Novi, Mich.

One project in the works is the massive 1,800-acre The Pinnacle Aeropark, a parcel of residential land owned by Wayne County. The Pinnacle will feature mixed-use development, including industrial and office facilities, a championship golf course, three hotels and retail space. The project is expected to generate $1.6 billion in new investments and create 25,000 jobs over the next 10 to 15 years. Groundbreaking is tentatively set for this spring.

"The area south of Metro Airport is going to take off when the new midfield terminal opens, and we believe that together we can make The Pinnacle the region’s premier business destination," says John Mitchell, supervisor for the nearby city of Huron, in a prepared statement.

Hadley adds that additional projects within the vicinity of Metro Airport will continue to spring up. "The county is very big in pushing development between Willow Run Airport [in nearby Ypsilanti] and Metro because the county wants to emphasize Willow Run as a cargo airport and Metro as a passenger airport," Hadley says. "That will continue to enhance that whole section of western Wayne County within a several-mile radius."

A dream come true
More than 35 million passengers use Metro Airport annually, making it the nation’s 10th-busiest airport. The midfield terminal is the largest of its kind since Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport opened with 108 gates in 1980, and its opening will cap more than 15 years of planning and four years of construction by owner Wayne County and Northwest Airlines, which oversaw the construction. The 2 million sq. ft. space will feature an express tram, giant stadium-sized video screens and a swanky new Northwest WorldClub. The airport also recently opened a sixth runway, measuring 10,000 feet.

With the completion of the McNamara Terminal, Detroit Metro Airport will include four terminals and a total of 141 gates. Future plans include the renovation of Davey Terminal (Northwest Airlines' prior location) and the demolition of the Smith Terminal, which houses all other airlines. The fourth terminal, the Michael Berry Terminal, will continue to house commuter jets and some international flights.

The McNamara Terminal has 10 dedicated international gates in the center of the main concourse, as well as a large Customs and Immigration facility that can process 3,200 passengers per hour. "International passengers will make it an airport of choice when connecting and that in turn will reinforce Detroit’s role as an international city," says Richard Anderson, CEO of Northwest Airlines.

A better business climate
Although Detroit is traditionally dependent on the automotive industry as a mainstay of its economy, city officials hope the new terminal will encourage more companies to locate in the Detroit area.

"We’re hoping that it becomes that much easier and that much more convenient to do business in Southeast Michigan because there is even more capacity now in and out of our airport by virtue of the gates and the runway," Hadley says.

A recent study by Northwest Airlines and Wayne County shows that Detroit area residents also view the terminal as a boon for Motor City. Nearly 84% of residents from the seven-county Detroit metro area said the new terminal would improve the image of Detroit nationally, while 78% said it would entice more people to do business in Detroit. According to the Detroit Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, 17 million visitors traveled to Detroit in 2000, and spent $5.1 billion in the city.

Hadley says economic diversification is one long-term benefit of the airport expansion. "We all love the automobile industry, but we all lament our dependence on the automobile industry," he says. "We’d like to have more economic diversity in our region, and maybe this airport can be the engine of that diversification."

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