Act 2: Salt Lake City International Airport opens another new concourse

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers reflected in the window look on as the first flight from concourse B at the Salt Lake City International Airport, a Southwest flight to Oakland, prepares to take off on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

A second major act opened Tuesday for the ongoing $4.1 billion project to replace Salt Lake City International Airport — a second shiny new concourse of 21 gates, parallel to a 20-gate concourse that opened last month.

It opened on schedule despite “a global pandemic, an earthquake, a catastrophic loss of business, and even last weekend’s snowstorm — which stalled a couple of deliveries that we really needed,” airport Executive Director Bill Wyatt said at 5 a.m. as passengers flowed into the new concourse for the first time.

“It’s a welcome celebration in a chaotic 2020,” Mayor Erin Mendenhall added at opening ceremonies.

“Nothing got in the way," Wyatt said. “We are on time and on budget.”

Actually, it’s a bit early. The new concourse — which essentially handles all airlines except Delta’s hub operation — originally was not scheduled to open until next spring. Wyatt said the Austin Okland Joint Venture that built it agreed to accelerate construction to open early.

The new concourse will significantly cut down what had been an extra-long walk to gates in the old airport for some passengers during the past six weeks since the new terminal opened.

“From the front door of the new terminal to the farthest tip of the old concourse was more than a mile,” with few moving walkways, Wyatt said. “Now it will be about a quarter-mile. And there are moving walkways the entire way. It will be a lot nicer.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, airport director Bill Wyatt, and Steve Sisneros of Southwest Airlines bump elbows after cutting a ribbon at gate B17 as the Salt Lake City International Airport celebrates the opening of concourse B, with a Southwest flight to Oakland taking off on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

That’s still a bit of a walk, however, including going down and through a 990-foot tunnel (more than three football fields in length) connecting parallel concourses. Passengers also need to walk (or take moving walkways) halfway down the new Delta concourse before they reach that tunnel.

“It felt like a long way,” said Amy Bishop, who decided to take the first Southwest Airlines flight out of the new terminal to celebrate with her husband, who was one of the construction directors. “It may have felt long because my husband had to stop and show me everything along the way. And I wasn’t sure how far we would have to go.”

State Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, a member of the Airport Advisory Board, said it is a longer walk than people may have expected in the old airport. “People should plan on that to give themselves a little extra time. But there are moving walkways. And it’s nice — with murals in the tunnel.”

Those murals depict the four seasons in Utah.

Salt Lake City artist Traci O’Very Covey won a competition to paint the murals about summer and fall. “It took six weeks, and I had a crew of 11 people,” she said. “It was a construction zone at the time, and we all had to wear hard hats and vests.”

She added, “I loved the theme because nature is a huge inspiration for me.”

Mendenhall said she also loves “how the airport is bedecked with art throughout. It reflects our beautiful state.” Even the restrooms have murals inside.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) "The Canyon," an art installation by Gordon Huether at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

Officials say the tunnel connecting the gate concourses is a sort of miracle.

“It was built back in 2004,” 16 years ago, Wyatt said. The airport applied for and won a federal grant then available in anticipation of the replacement airport coming much later.

“They built it, then buried it like a tomb,” until it was recently needed, Mendhenhall said.

Wyatt added, “The significance of the tunnel is that it goes not only between the two concourses, but underneath a taxiway that is vital to make this airport function.” Without it, he said, construction may not have been possible without severely hurting air operations, and “it would have cost $80 million to $100 million to build now.”

The airport soon will build another main tunnel, which will be more of a straight shot between the two concourses. The old portions of the airport will soon be demolished.

While officials celebrated the new facility, Wyatt and others were also a little sad because it marked the final closure of all old facilities at the airport — some of which were more than 60 years old. The former terminal and concourses will now be demolished to make way to lengthen the new parallel concourses.

“The older airport that served us so well for so long is now completely closed. It’s a little sad,” Wyatt said. “But we have a new spectacular facility that should serve us even longer.”

Mendenhall agreed. “We now have an airport that is as beautiful as our state,” she said. “It is a major economic generator for the city and the entire region.”

Zach Maravilla of Spokane, Wash., gave perhaps an unknowing compliment about how well the transition to the new facility occurred Tuesday. “This is my first time here. I didn’t realize this was new,” he said in the new concourse. “Everything worked fine, like it had been here a long time.”

The new concourse — called Concourse B or the north concourse — serves Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United airlines, plus some Delta flights.

Gates B21 and B24 serve as access points for some temporary “hard-stand” operations for regional aircraft, where shuttles take passengers to aircraft parked on the tarmac. As expansion continues, all flights eventually will be served by jet bridges.

The new concourses feature electronic plugs in every seat — and every seat has two armrests. Passengers are never more than 150 feet from a restroom in the new facilities.

The new concourse now features three restaurants (Gourmandise: Euro Diner and Bakery, Uinta Brewing Co., and Wasatch Brew Pub) and five new shops (@ease, InMotion, Liberty Park Market, Hip & Humble, Maverik and The Salt Lake Tribune). More restaurants and shops will follow as passenger numbers increase.

Expansion of the new facilities is now scheduled to be completed by December 2024. That completion initially was not expected until 2027, but timetables moved up as quicker construction is allowing earlier demolition of old facilities — also allowed because of slower operations due to the pandemic.