By Maria Saporta
A visibly-relieved Mayor Kasim Reed savored the moment. Yes, the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal will open Wednesday, May 16.
The city was able to announce an opening date just one day after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Wright on Monday denied a request from losing airport concession bidders asking to block the city from finalizing concession deals and stop all work to build out retail and eating establishments on the new international terminal and the rest of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
“It feels good,” the mayor said after Tuesday morning’s media briefing in the new terminal still under construction. “I’m really happy. I feel good today.”
Apparently, the weight of bidding concessions for the whole airport at one time, the stops and starts, and the resulting lawsuits, had been taking its toll on the mayor.
“Until the judge had finished her ruling, we couldn’t move forward,” Reed said.
Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson also welcomed the news of an opening date.
“I think it’s exciting because this terminal is on par with any international terminal facility in the world,” Anderson said in a brief telephone interview. “Let me say that again. This is one of the premier, if not the premier, international terminal facility in the world.”
Anderson was particularly pleased that the Jackson international terminal had been built with no local tax dollars. Instead, it is being paid for with revenue from the airlines, particularly Delta, which is by far the largest airline serving Hartsfield-Jackson.
Anderson also said he was relieved by the judge’s ruling on Monday.
“We needed to know that we were going to have concessions available,” Anderson said. “It’s been a long effort.”
It was Anderson who then said that former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who now sits on Delta’s board, “did a pretty amazing job” in getting the international terminal project out of the ground.
At one time Delta and the city were at odds over the terminal’s proposed project costs, and there was grave concern that the city would have problems issuing bonds to pay for the project without Delta’s blessing.
“We had to do a massive re-budgeting of the facility,” Anderson said Tuesday. “We took $400 million out of the project costs.”
During a tour of the new terminal, construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the facility.
A few features stand out. A wide bank of floor to ceiling windows give people a sense that they’re part of the magic of air travel. The beautiful, iridescent, royal blue lighting on the ceiling resembles waves — and the blue colors are playfully reflected on the granite floor. Two pieces of art make an immediate impression — rebiLace — a chandelier designed by artist Donald Lipski that has 6,000 pieces of crystal serving as a focal point in the “transition” space between ticketing and the 12 international gates.
The other piece is — airFIELD — with dozens of translucent discs hanging from the ceiling in an atrium area where there will be a food court and sky clubs on the mezzanine.
One can already see where the people mover (also known as the “plane train”) is being extended to Concourse F (the new international terminal). The service already is being tested during off hours.
Live plants are being installed. Escalators, walking sidewalks and elevators are ready to welcome passengers coming and going.
And the new terminal is expected to add a total of 1,500 jobs, with about 1,000 working at the airport. They currently are undergoing training so they’ll be ready by May 16.
Louis Miller, Hartsfield-Jackson’s general manager, said that a Wednesday was picked for the opening because “it’s the slowest day for international traffic.”
It also is expected that there will be a VIP opening reception earlier in May to introduce the new facility to metro Atlanta leaders as well as pay tribute to the namesake, the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Perhaps at some point we can talk about naming the current terminal (which will be referred to as the domestic terminal) in honor of Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield.
For people flying into Atlanta, having a domestic Hartsfield terminal and an international Jackson terminal would provide the symmetry and symbolism of honoring two mayors who were instrumental in making Atlanta the home of the busiest airport in the world.
It would reinforce the name — Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — by giving each mayor his due.