New Duluth airport terminal draws praise at open house (with video)On Friday, the dignitaries saw Duluth’s new airport terminal. On Saturday, it was the people’s turn. The people were pleased.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
On Friday, the dignitaries saw Duluth’s new airport terminal.
On Saturday, it was the people’s turn.
The people were pleased.
“It’s fabulous,” said Carl Isadore, 72, of Duluth as he sat in a stuffed chair in the terminal’s upper level not far from where a four-piece jazz combo was playing. “It was money well-spent.”
Bonnie Gillette of Duluth, who was checking out the airport with her husband, Dave, was equally enthused.
“I love it,” she said. “I like the fact that right now we can see everything. It’s a real warm feeling.”
The openness of the 110,000-square-foot terminal, brightened by enormous glass panels facing toward Duluth, drew frequent plaudits. Although the old terminal — which will close for good after today’s 10:57 p.m. flight — was the same size, the feel was totally different, said Rita Molitor, Duluth-based inspector for the Transportation Security Administration.
“It’s literally like night and day,” said Molitor, who has been on the job for about 10 years. “The other building was so dark, and this is so bright.”
The chance to see the long-awaited $78 million terminal drew between 3,600 and 4,000 people for the four-hour event, said Thomas Werner, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority.
“That was absolutely incredible considering the weather we’ve had the past couple of days,” Werner said. “It blew our projections out of the water.”
They came early for the noon opening, waiting patiently to park their cars in the free-for-the-afternoon airport parking lots, walking to the terminal through biting wind and blowing snow. Sam’s Club brought five sheet cakes to help celebrate the open house. By the end of the first hour, all 500 pieces had been taken, said Chad Manney, the store’s manager.
The 2,000 terminal maps that had been printed were all gone, Werner said. The 1,000 luggage-handle covers they had were given out in the first 45 minutes.
Well-dressed airport executives and volunteers in blue T-shirts seemed to be everywhere, eager to answer questions and show off their new home’s features.
In what is known as the Tug tunnel — “Tug” is a brand of small tractors that move baggage trailers — airport employee Bryce Allison was showing the guests the normally unseen underground area. Baggage will arrive there after being screened by the TSA, and it will be hauled there before being sent to the two baggage-claim areas. He pointed to the gleaming white pipes that are part of the terminal’s geothermal heating and cooling system — part of the reason the project earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
Visitors got to see the TSA screening area itself — a mini-world of conveyor belts twisting every which way. It made one wonder: If the screening area is this complex at a small airport, what’s it like at O’Hare?
That, anyway, was the thought that occurred to Shuinn Chang, she said. The 26-year-old Chicagoan had arrived at the old terminal at 10:30 a.m. with Sam Pawlyk, 26, who is from the Newark, N.J., area, after the two participated in an eight-day Outward Bound experience in the Boundary Waters. They had missed an earlier flight to Chicago, so they wandered over to the new terminal while waiting for the 3 p.m. flight.
Both said they didn’t mind the delay.
“I think it’s a really well-designed airport,” Chang said. “There are outlets everywhere. It’s equipped for Wi-Fi. You don’t always get that at bigger airports.”
Pawlyk said if he’d made the earlier flight he would have faced a long layover in Chicago, and he preferred spending the time in Duluth because how often do you get to go to an airport open house? Both he and Chang said they enjoyed seeing the inner workings of an airport.
“The geothermal thing is cool,” Pawlyk said.
Joe Gomer, 92, agreed.
Generations of visitors will get to see the statue of Duluth’s Tuskegee Airman before they enter the TSA screening area. On Saturday, they got to see the man himself, seated a few feet away from the statue. Many stopped to shake his hand and thank him for his service.
Gomer was thinking of the future.
“It’s a wonderful terminal,” he said. “I just toured their new geothermal heating system. That’s really thinking ahead. It’s a great investment.”