SALT LAKE CITY — The massive, yearslong expansion of Salt Lake City International Airport has reached another big milestone: the placement of the north concourse's final steel beam.
Raised 56 feet in the air, the beam — covered in signatures of construction workers and city officials, draped with an American flag and topped with a small pine tree in honor of the Scandinavian tradition — highlighted the project's topping-off ceremony Tuesday.
The ceremony marked T-minus "545 days and 11 hours and so many minutes" until the opening of the airport expansion's first phase, slated for Sept. 15, 2020, said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.
Wyatt called the event an "extraordinary milestone" for "what is going to be America's best airport."
"This is, I think, the first— and I am quite confident — the only 21st-century hub that will be completely new when it's done," Wyatt said, noting other airports across the country don't have the 9,000-acre real estate Salt Lake City enjoyed to expand its airport.
While the enormous construction site was "just a mud pit" when it began, Wyatt credited workers with playing a part to build an airport that will put Utah's capital on the global map.
"This project is going to have an economic impact and a cultural impact on the future of this community in ways few can understand, and it's because of your efforts," he told a crowd of construction workers who attended the ceremony.
Wyatt said Tuesday morning he walked through the underground tunnel now connecting the south concourse with the future north concourse, which only recently saw daylight after it's been "entombed" for over a decade, "waiting for this project to happen," he said.
The tunnel, finished in 2004, shows the foresight of city leaders who long ago envisioned what the airport expansion could mean for Salt Lake City, Wyatt said.
Patrick Leary, chief of staff for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, called the topping-off ceremony "another remarkable milestone" for the project — one that will "secure Salt Lake City's position as a global aviation hub well into the future."
The project is slated to create 24,000 jobs and generate more than $1 billion in wages for the state, Leary said.
The more than $3.6 billion airport expansion is being completely funded through the airport's self-sustaining fund, meaning no taxpayer dollars are paying for the project, airport officials have said.
The airport's north concourse project broke ground in January 2018, and since that time workers have installed thousands of stone columns, poured more than 16,000 cubic yards of concrete and erected more than 5,000 tons of structural steel, according to airport officials.
The first phase of the north concourse will include 20 gates in a 465,000-square-foot building. The second phase will include 10 gates in a 364,000-square-foot building with the space to add another 15 gates to the east for a total of 45 gates.
Level one of the north concourse will be for airline operation space, concession tenant storage and maintenance. The second level will be for public space, passenger amenities, airline gates, hold rooms, public restrooms and lease space for concessions, according to airport officials.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said the scale of the project is "so big, it's often difficult to fully take in and comprehend."
He thanked construction workers for their efforts, saying a project of this magnitude takes a full team effort."
"Doing this without you would be impossible," he said. "I'm glad to see the concourse is on course."