CASCADE TWP. — Gerald R. Ford International Airport officials expect to complete a $110 million concourse expansion in June 2023, followed by renovation work on the existing concourse that’s set to finish in early 2024.
“When we open these eight gates, we’ll have expanded peak capacities out to the world,” said Casey Ries, engineering and planning director of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority.
In 2019, an airline company approached airport officials seeking additional capacity in Grand Rapids, spurring the capital improvement project, Ries said. Original plans to break ground on the Concourse A expansion in April 2020 were delayed as air travel significantly declined at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ries added.
“The pandemic caused a very significant delay in the airport’s decision,” Ries said. “We approached the airlines about it again in July of 2021 and looked at the growth and how we were recovering faster than other airports of similar size and decided a few weeks after to pursue the project again.”
Construction on the Concourse A expansion started in November 2021, and airport officials opened the construction site to the media on Thursday. Crews were working on windows and flooring in the expansive, high-ceiling concourse Thursday as the new addition was starting to take shape. The project will add nearly 100,000 square feet to one of the airport’s existing concourses.
“It’s about creating a sense of place,” Ries said. “We will have four local artists featured in our terrazzo flooring, another artist featured in three different suspended ceilings, and five or six different locations of wall art all featuring the feel of West Michigan through the eyes of local artists.”
Upon completion, airlines will move into the eight newly constructed gates while the existing concourse and gates will shut down for renovations, Ries said. Travelers will still be able to walk through the existing concourse area while it is being renovated, he said.
The new concourse will feature larger seating areas with more modern furniture, concession options that are closer to where people are waiting for their flights, and a new executive lounge that will be operated by a third party that airlines can rent out for a fee. The concourse relies on natural light as much as possible, and flooring and steel beams are utilizing recycled materials.
The Christman Co. is the construction manager for the expansion project, and has helped source more than 95 percent of the trade contractors for the development from the West Michigan community, said Jacob Kulhanek, senior vice president and general manager of the West Michigan region of The Christman Co.
To overcome long lead times for materials, construction crews have been working closely with trade partners to plan and purchase materials in advance, Kulhanek said.
Jim VanBeek, project manager from Grand Rapids-based Bazen Electric Co., the electrician on the project, said the company had to bring on new workers for the project.
“I’ve made so many new contacts even just through the airport and friendships and things like that, and it’s about pulling everything together,” VanBeek said. “We’re able to get the guys we need for this project, but there is a shortage of electricians out there and that will be a challenge even in the years to come.”
Lansing-based Mead & Hunt, Grand Rapids-based TowerPinkster, and HKS Inc. serve as the architects on the concourse addition.
“I applaud the airport authority and staff. As a local business owner, I see this as a sign of a healthy community and it will help move our community forward,” Kulhanek said. “This helps connect our community to the outside world.”
The Concourse A expansion is part of $300 million in capital improvements planned and underway at the Grand Rapids airport. Other projects include consolidating rental car services in a new adjacent facility, moving the airport’s control tower, and redesigning bagging and check-in areas.