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Duluth airport’s new parking garage opens Friday

The Duluth International Airport’s new three-story parking garage will open Friday, just in time to catch the first eligible travelers of the day who wish to use it.

The enclosed ramp, which is connected by skywalk to the terminal’s expansive glass front, is the last phase of the $78 million terminal project that included the new passenger terminal, which opened with fanfare in January 2013.

The enclosed ramp, which is designed to hold 370 vehicles, will be used for long-term parking, corporate parking and rental cars. It was seen as a way to persuade more travelers to fly out of Duluth rather than to drive to Minneapolis to catch flights, a problem known as “market leakage.”

A ribbon-cutting and grand opening “Novemberfest” celebration to be held at the airport’s mezzanine on Thursday is open to local chamber of commerce members and corporate customers, but not the general public.

Airport spokeswoman Natalie Peterson declined to talk about the garage project on Tuesday, saying a news release will be available on Thursday to media who attend the event, to others on Friday.

Earlier projections had put the cost for the project at $6.2 million.

A year ago, it was in danger of not getting built.

In August 2013, airport director Tom Werner recommended that the ramp project be scrapped for now because of a $2.7 million financing shortfall. He expressed concern to the Duluth Airport Authority about the airport’s ability to pay back a new loan if the economy faltered again, if an airline pulled out of the Duluth market and if parking revenues fell short of projections.

But board members voted 5-1 to move forward with the ramp construction, contingent on the city of Duluth helping with financing. The city did come through. In October 2013, councilors approved the sale of $3.4 million in general obligation airport improvement bonds to cover the shortfall.

Besides a $2.7 million deficit to pay for the ramp, about $1 million still was needed to finish and pay for the new terminal and related grounds work.

An added boost came in September with news that Duluth’s two airports would get $2.6 million in U.S. Department of Transportation grants. Of that, $1.4 million would go to the Duluth International Airport to finish the skywalk connection between the new terminal and the new parking ramp.

While Peterson declined to say who built the new garage, Kraus-Anderson Construction Co. has served as the senior project manager of the airport terminal project.