More Than Just Fundraising

Curt Pullen

When Brian Ryks, former executive director at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, approached me about spearheading the Gateway Transformation Project Fundraising Campaign, I instantly knew we were pioneering a path that no other airport had ever taken.

Gerald R. Ford International is the second largest airport in Michigan, and we are home to abundant businesses that have advanced our region into tremendous economic growth. The Brookings Institution named Grand Rapids the #6 City in Economic Performance since the recovery, and Trulia listed Grand Rapids as the #1 Housing Market to Watch in 2016. We're growing, we're thriving and air service continues to soar along with our community. 


Curt Pullen, former executive vice president and president of Herman Miller North America, currently serves as vice chairman of West Michigan's Regional Air Alliance and co-chairs the Gateway Transformation Project Fundraising Campaign for Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Pullen is also a pilot and U.S. Air Force veteran. 

Our 53-year-old terminal building is sufficient for moving people through the concourses. However, with higher passenger volumes, increased business travel and an aging structure, we knew we needed a renovation that would make our space more welcoming, more efficient and more delightful for our guests. We also know how important ease of travel and customer service is to our airline partners. We're a better collaborator when we're improving the experience from curbside to the gate, and that's what we set out to accomplish. Simply stated, we wanted the experience at the airport to equal the community experience of West Michigan.

The Gateway Transformation Project, a $45 million renovation project, was the solution. It will consolidate the security checkpoint; expand food, beverage and retail space; add new restrooms, lighting, terrazzo flooring; and more. Ryks suggested a public-private partnership and called upon the West Michigan Regional Air Alliance, a cabinet of area business and community leaders. The Alliance appointed a team that developed a way to get the project done without requiring the airport to take on extra debt. The goal was to create an additional funding source so the airport could deliver a great experience and avoid assuming more costs than necessary. We set a goal for the airport to contribute $25 million, and the fundraising committee is soliciting $20 million through its campaign.

West Michigan is fortunate to have many successful businesses and organizations as residents, many of which have invested tremendously in helping create and enhance our vibrant community over the years. As we approached the CEOs, presidents and leaders of local companies, we heard one theme: They love our airport and instantly recognized the value of what we were attempting to do. This, in turn, has resulted in tremendous participation in the campaign. 

Local companies see the same value in the airport that we see: It is the gateway to West Michigan. When a first-time guest steps off the plane in West Michigan, what will they see? Will it be memorable? Will they feel at home? Will they feel a sense of what we represent? 

When our customers, employees, business partners and families travel through Gerald R. Ford International, they will see the community's commitment to helping the airport provide a great travel experience. Visitors will also recognize what West Michigan is known for, and be eager to find out more about Grand Rapids, which was voted the "Best City to Raise a Family" (Forbes 2014), "Best Beer Scene" (USA Today, 2016), and one of the New York Times' "52 Places to Go in 2016." 

Several companies are already supporting the Gateway Transformation Project, and there are more to come. To date, the project has raised over $16 million, and Phase One of the construction is on-track to be complete by next summer. 

We set out with a fundraising goal, but this effort has become so much more. Our community, our airline partners and tenants, our local business and leisure travelers will all reap the benefits of what started out as an idea-and what we will one day look back upon as a truly magnificent gateway to our West Michigan community and a testament of what working together can bring. 




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