Mayor Ralph Becker announces plans to rebuild Salt Lake City International Airport

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 8:21 p.m. MST

Passengers check in at the Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Mayor Ralph Becker announced Tuesday plans to demolish and completely rebuild the Salt Lake City International Airport to address seismic risks and accommodate its emergence as a regional hub.

"The Salt Lake City International Airport was not built to be a hub," Becker said during his State of the City address at the Salt Lake City-County Building. "Today, as the number of passengers has increased annually to (more than) 21 million, it is by all measures a large hub airport, and it must be redeveloped to meet the needs of our region."

City and airport officials have proposed a $1.8 billion phased rebuild of the airport that would take at least eight years to complete. The project is expected to get under way sometime next year.

Because the airport operates as an enterprise fund and its budget is self-sustaining, no taxpayer dollars would be used on the reconstruction. Passenger facility charges and rental car fees would finance much of project, said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.

The airport also has no debt and more than $250 million in reserves to put toward the project. Delta Air Lines, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of flights at the airport, also has committed funding to the renovation, as have other airlines operating at the airport, city officials said.

"It's a real exciting opportunity for us, as the crossroads of the West and a major hub for Delta Air Lines, to redevelop our airport in a way that meets today's needs," Becker said prior to his speech.

As now envisioned, the airport would feature just one terminal and 12 fewer gates than it does today, but it would use the space more efficiently, Gann said. All 74 gates would be able to accommodate all sizes of aircraft, each with bridges to the respective planes, eliminating the need for outdoor staircases.

The driving force behind the rebuild was the need for seismic upgrades to airport structures, the oldest of which date back 50 years, including Terminal 1 and concourses A and B.

Rather than retrofitting those areas, city and airport officials decided to tackle operational problems, improve customer service, accommodate growth and maintain competitive costs by completely rebuilding the airport.

"Visitors to the airport should experience a wonderful gateway to Salt Lake City, to our state and to the Intermountain West," Becker said.

Design of the project is expected to get under way later this year. The goal, the mayor said, is to improve the overall passenger and visitor experience.

"People appreciate our airport because it's an easy airport to get in and out of," he said. "We want to make sure we maintain that but also add a lot to the visitor experience here."

Becker also is proposing to build a "net-positive" project, using renewable resources to produce more energy than the airport requires and feeding that surplus back into the system.

The mayor said he envisions "a project not just bereft of negative impacts but one that positively contributes to the health of our residents, visitors and environment."

Other highlights from the mayor's fifth State of the City address:

Becker said he plans to ask the City Council to increase support for after-school programs and summer employment for city youth through an expanded grant system.

"Salt Lake City has recently engaged the Salt Lake City School District to grow its after-school programs and we're exploring the potential of a youth conservation corps at the city," he said.

Becker said the city will pursue "additional initiatives to bolster our local business community," creating more neighborhood business districts like the River District Gardens around 900 South and 900 West.

The mayor also issued a call to address the watershed and character of the Wasatch canyons. "Public and private partners must all come together ... to protect our watershed, establish mountain transportation systems and wilderness areas, and balance uses while protecting natural resources," he said.

Becker said he will ask the City Council to fund an "arts incubator" program for individual artists and emerging arts organizations "that will give breathing room for artists to explore and share their work."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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