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SALT LAKE CITY — Sebastiano Cardella took an assignment to help build a completely new Salt Lake City International Airport in the summer of 2014.
Construction started with a parking lot before thousands of construction workers over the past eight years moved to other projects that got the new airport facility off the ground and running, with a little less than 5 million square feet of building space and 250 acres of airfield and roadway paving.
Airport officials say it has taken 12 million hours of labor to get where the airport is today when adding up all the time construction crews have put into the project — and the work isn't going to be done anytime soon.
But given all that ongoing work, Cardella, senior superintendent of the Holder-Big D joint construction venture, said Tuesday that it's easy to forget how much they've accomplished in just eight years. They constructed a new international airport from scratch — one that's quickly growing in leaps and bounds after just two years of operation.
"To sit here and think about what we've done over the past eight years is truly incredible," he said, standing on a stage and looking out toward a sea of construction workers as commercial aircraft arrived and departed from the airport they built. "Those eight years kind of run together and you kind of lose sight over what we've done."
"This is a true milestone of 12 million hours that you've all put in," he told them.
Tuesday marked the two-year anniversary since the Salt Lake City International Airport switched operations from its old terminal to its new one.
While honoring all the hours of work that made the first two years of operation happen was the focus of Tuesday's celebration, the future of the airport was not lost. Construction workers were treated to a barbecue before returning to their assignments on the Concourse A-East and the central tunnel as a part of the airport's next phases. The first of those two projects will bring 22 new gates.
Moving ahead of schedule
Airport administrators also went back to work on the next steps for the airport.
Salt Lake City Department of Airports officials went to prepare for their presentation to the Salt Lake City Council, where they are seeking to amend the airport's budget to include the construction of a 16-gate expansion to Concourse B and a handful of smaller items.
The request, according to a public document, seeks a change of about $683 million in the budget "so procurement can happen this fall and winter of 2022." Airport officials add that it would require no changes to the city's general fund revenues or expenditures because "landing fees, terminal rentals and other fees paid by the airlines serving the airport" would foot the bill.
Airport administrators previously said in August that they planned to build nine more gates at Concourse B. City officials said the new request is "expected but moving ahead of schedule."
"It's driven by demand from the airlines — Delta and the other airlines," said Bill Wyatt, Salt Lake City International Airport's executive director, explaining the request to the crowd of construction workers. "We went to them and said, 'We've got 16 gates, how many would you like?' They said '22,' which we don't have but, nevertheless, it means all of you who want to are going to have a lot of work ahead of you."
Under the new plan, five new Concourse B gates would open by January 2026. The remaining 11 gates would open by January 2027.
The document notes that there will be 94 total gates at the airport once the Concourse A-East and the amended Concourse B expansions are completed, 47 at each concourse. The extension is expected to be the full build-out of the concourse, while a third concourse is still expected in the distant future.
This new Concourse B expansion, according to Wyatt, is possible because the entire project has remained on time and on budget despite all the issues in the construction industry since 2014. And while the expansion was always in the long-term plans, Wyatt told the council later Tuesday that it wasn't "terribly obvious" on opening day two years ago that the need for the project would come within the first two years of the new airport.
What changed is that the airport recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic quicker than anyone expected. Airport administrators say they have now surpassed 2019 traffic levels, which prompted a review for a 16-gate expansion about a year ago.
Salt Lake: The 'Atlanta of the West'?
The growth could also have a major economic impact. Wyatt told the council that Delta Airlines has "indicated" they want to open a new crew training facility at the Salt Lake City airport in the future that is similar to its headquarters in Georgia. That's on top of an extended lease at the airport.
"They refer to it as the 'Atlanta of the West' and it makes a lot of sense because really, historically, Delta was not a western airline despite the fact they purchased Western Airlines," he said. "They were an eastern airline so they did everything in Atlanta. I think it's a remarkable statement about their commitment to Salt Lake and the growth that they've seen."
All of it is pending corporate approval, which Wyatt said is expected to be voted on at the end of the year.
Members of the council seemed optimistic about the development at the end of the airport staff's presentation.
"I love our airport," said Salt Lake City Councilwoman Victoria Petro-Eschler. "Thank you for how you are amplifying and encouraging our local economy as we grow this and also welcoming in nationwide multi-national corporations like Delta to invest in our community and grow roots here that are going to be to our benefit."