September 14, 2012

Wichita celebrates start of construction on new $101.5 million airport terminal

ACT 3 was unveiled indoors Thursday afternoon at the Mid-Continent Airport safety building.

ACT 3 was unveiled indoors Thursday afternoon at the Mid-Continent Airport safety building.

There was no ground to be broken for Air Capital Terminal 3, or ACT 3, the city’s new $101.5 million, two-floor, state-of-the-art airport terminal, as rain pelted down on the construction site on the airport’s west side.

“There’s an old Irish saying,” observed Victor White, the city’s director of airports, “that when there’s bad weather on the day of a wedding, the marriage will succeed.

“I hope that holds true for construction projects.”

The rain, and the revelation that ground for the terminal was actually broken last month, didn’t deter a crowd of city, county and state officials from a sometimes raucous celebration commemorating the city’s third airport terminal in almost a century of commercial aviation. Thursday marked the end of 11 years of on-again, off-again planning for the new terminal.

From Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer to the airport’s advisory board, the reason for the celebration was clear: The airport will be a key part of plans to grow the city’s residential and business bases.

“This new terminal will serve as a window into our community, our city’s heritage and our collaborative spirit,” Brewer said.

Thom Rosenberg, the chairman of the Wichita Airport Advisory Board, agreed with the mayor.

“Wichita’s going to grow,” Rosenberg said, “because we’re increasing the core area of downtown. … New people come to our city and this is the first vision they see. We are the Air Capital of the World and to see a facility that is so modern, so up to date, far ahead of the airports in some much larger cities, that’s such a plus for our future.”

The new terminal, which is slated for completion in early 2015, is to be funded by a user-fee based system and a $53 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Airport passenger user fees,” Brewer proclaimed to applause from the crowd. “Not our taxes.”

The terminal will be able to handle 2 million passengers annually at 12 gates, with expansion possible to 16 gates that can accommodate an additional 400,000 passengers annually.

Each gate will have passenger-loading jet bridges accommodating a wide range of aircraft, from smaller jets up to 757s.

Thursday’s ceremony is the culmination of planning that began in 2001 with various groups, including the Wichita City Council, city boards, county and state officials and national transportation officials.

The Wichita Airport Authority voted in October 2004 to move forward, a process that bogged down over seven years until the city agreed last year to solicit bids.

And then the project bogged down again. City staff found last spring that the initial low bidder, a team headed by Wichita-based Dondlinger Construction at $99.4 million, did not make a good-faith effort to land enough federally required disadvantaged-business subcontractors for the project.

Without such a good-faith effort, the FAA stood ready to pull its grant, effectively killing the project.

So a four-month appeals process began that concluded in July, when the City Council overturned Dondlinger’s final appeal and awarded the project to the next low bidder, a team led by Wichita-based Key Construction at $101.5 million.

Now, city and county officials said Thursday, it’s time to move on with the terminal and with growing Wichita.

“We are due a new terminal,” Brewer said. “I’m excited because this will make a great first and final impression on our visitors.”

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