NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Wilmington International Airport (ILM) officially opened its new concourse, part of its $68-million terminal expansion, to travelers Tuesday.
“It has been great to see passengers rocking in the rocking chairs, checking out the historical displays, and enjoying the ‘Loggerhead Labyrinth,’” spokesperson Erin McNally wrote to Port City Daily.
The expansion will serve 50% more passengers and increase the facility’s space by 75%.
More than three years in the making, the new amenities were unveiled Monday afternoon among 300 guests, including current and former county commissioners, the airport authority board, stakeholders and media.
“With this increased capacity, we can accommodate and support the growth of our existing airline partners,” airport authority chair Donna Girardot said, noting ILM serves nine nonstop flights from United, Delta and American to reach 360 destinations. McNally said American Airlines was already training staff on the new equipment earlier Tuesday.
The airport’s master expansion plan started in 2018, with the contract awarded to Monteith Construction. By summer 2020, the first two phases were complete, including a new ticket lobby, ticket counters and ticket offices, among other amenities.
This week’s gathering revealed the new concourse, with vaulted ceilings, improved seating, and community-inspired art and historical features.
Though aesthetically modernized, ILM’s Southern charm and hospitality remain at the forefront of appeal, a goal that began in 1995 with former airport authority chairman Parks Griffin. Woody White, who served as a New Hanover County commissioner for eight years, spoke about how the late Griffin paid attention to “architectural and decorative details associated with the South: stately, white columns, large picture windows and rocking chairs.”
Griffin served on the airport authority board from the mid ‘90s through 2003, helping guide its growth in commercial and aviation traffic. White said he facilitated its name change from New Hanover International Airport to Wilmington International Airport, “realizing the advantage of branding this region.”
“He would not like that we are gathered here today to talk about him and his accomplishments — just the thought of that would make him cringe,” White added, “but memorializing people who imagine what could be done inspires us to reimagine what we can do.”
A plaque will be placed in a common area, referred to as Parks L. Griffin Plaza, to commemorate Griffin’s role in growing ILM.
“The new concourse, the Parks Griffin Plaza, and public art have all come together to be a direct reflection of our community,” Girardot explained.
Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, helped oversee the installation of sculptures and murals as part of the expansion. Monday’s reveal showcased Jill Webb’s 2D terrazzo floor design “Labyrinth Loggerhead.”
The maze, with the outline of a loggerhead turtle, was created in colors inspired by the ocean and sand at Wrightsville Beach.
Webb told Port City Daily in December 2020 she wanted it to be reminiscent of a “park for kids or a meditative space in the midst of a traditionally busy transitional space.”
“Earlier this morning, when I went down to the space, I saw young kids enjoying walking through the labyrinth,” McNally wrote to Port City Daily Tuesday. “It was really fun to see this passenger interaction with the new public art in the airport.”
Historical displays, as curated by Cape Fear Museum, are also a part of the redesign, showcasing the timeline of the airport.
Phase three of the terminal expansion is projected to be finalized by summer 2023.
“Once complete, the construction will include nine total gates, an expanded baggage claim area and renovations to our existing hold room, which will match the look and feel of this new concourse,” Girardot said.
Renovated concession areas, with a larger restaurant, as operated by Tailwind Concessions, are also slated to open by spring.
The expansion was funded with $35.5 million from the Federal Aviation Administration and over $21 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation, the Division of Aviation, and the N.C. General Assembly.
The airport’s economic impact on the southeastern region tops out at $2.2 billion, offering 16,000 jobs and adding to the tax base by $85 million. Its surrounding campus also has gained more interest as of late.
“In 2021 alone, 70 acres of the business park land has already been leased to companies eager to call New Hanover County home,” said New Hanover commissioner chair Julia Olson-Boseman, who serves on the airport authority board.
In November, both CIL Capital LLC and Edgewater Ventures announced the move to the 140-acre ILM business park. Together, they will make a $140-million investment in the region, with CIL developing a cold-storage facility for the life sciences industry and Edgewater building three Class A speculative industrial buildings.
“With more projects on the horizon, our airport is expanding and improving and being seen as a true economic development partner and driver in our region,” Olson-Boseman said.
She also welcomed ILM’s new executive director, Jeffrey Bourk. The board hired Bourk in November as the replacement for Julie Wilsey, whom they voted unanimously to release from her contract last summer. Under Wilsey’s reign, ILM experienced a banner year in 2019, with an almost $500-million bump in economic growth.
Bourk comes from Branson Airport in Hollister, Missouri, and began his position at ILM Jan. 2. He stated in November a desire to develop strategic air service and grow the business park to maximize ILM’s economic impact.
“You have come at an incredible time in the life of this airport and I look forward to the continued momentum and excitement as our airport grows with your strategic vision,” Olson-Boseman told Bourk.
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