Officials unveil upgrades, expansion at Metro Airport

Improvements go beyond paint

Baton Rouge leaders unveiled a pivotal piece of a $12.5 million overhaul of Metro Airport on Tuesday.

Floor-to-ceiling windows. Decorative terrazzo floor tiles. A power outlet for every seat in the waiting areas.

The new 14,500-square-foot rotunda area features all the trappings of a busy, modern airport.

“The airport has come a long way,” said William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor Kip Holden. “It’s such a beautiful facility.”

The Transportation Security Administration checkpoint has been moved to the rotunda expansion, freeing up space in the original rotunda where visitors without tickets can wait for arriving passengers.

Airport Director Anthony Marino said the shift was needed because safety restrictions implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had limited access to the original rotunda to ticketed passengers.

“The atrium areas were designed for (unticketed guests). We weren’t able to fully use those facilities,” Marino said. “We had to try to find a way to cure that problem.”

The 14,500-square-foot rotunda expansion project experienced its share of turbulence along the way. Originally slated to open by the end of 2012, its completion was delayed by several construction setbacks, including a problem with the tile floors.

Marino said the delays were often because officials wanted to ensure that all of the improvements were done properly.

For example, the terrazzo flooring initially wouldn’t stick to the concrete surface, so experts were consulted to ensure that moisture wasn’t leaking into the building.

“We went through a great deal out of concern,” he said. “With this many projects, we’re going to have problems.”

The expansion has been open for about 30 days, Marino said.

On Tuesday, a few passengers shuffled through, eyeing the ribbon cutting festivities as they pulled their luggage toward the widened concourses.

Improvements include new carpet and paint throughout the airport, new restrooms and eateries and a new gift shop.

Baton Rouge’s airport is home to four major carriers that fly to five non-stop destinations and connections, including Atlanta, Memphis and Charlotte.

It serves about a million passengers a year.

Marino said he had hoped to have airlines on hand to announce new services or new destinations at Tuesday’s event, but the timing wasn’t right.

He said he expects new offerings will be announced “very shortly” but didn’t provide specifics.

Many of the officials who attended Tuesday’s grand opening marveled at the airport’s changes.

Airport Commission Chairman Trae Welch, who also serves on the Metro Council, has an aviation background and learned to fly at the airport.

“Back then, security was just a fence and it was to keep the deer out,” he said. “This is not the airport I grew up around. This is something that is going forward and moving.”

Welch said Baton Rouge’s growth has led to the need for improvements at the airport, which is self-funded.

“We want to have an airport that, honest to God, gives you every amenity that you could find at any large airport. That’s what this represents,” Welch said.

According to Marino, the airport has an estimated $52 million in additional construction projects slated or underway.

The 700-acre Aviation Business Park being developed at the airport already has lured several companies, including Dow Chemical, and Marino said leaders are looking to bring in more tenants.

“It will give us a revenue stream to support this airport for years to come,” he said.