Peoria Airport Gets New Terminal & New Name

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) welcomed passengers into its new 125,000-square-foot terminal in late April. The larger, more modern and open space is a reflection of the local Illinois region and will serve as an "appealing front door to the community," says Gene Olson, director of airports for the Metropolitan Airport Authority of Peoria.

"The new terminal building gives a much better, more modern impression of the community," adds Olson, who joined the airport in June 2009, with the project already in progress.

Even with multiple rehabilitations over the years, the original 1959 terminal was showing its age and becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, he explains. For instance, when the air conditioner broke, replacement parts often had to be specially machined. "When you're in a situation like that, keeping things going gets prohibitively expensive," Olson explains.

The airport board quickly realized that


Project: New Terminal

Location: Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria (IL) Int'l Airport

Cost: $65 million

Funding: $20 million federal; state matching funds; local bonding

Size: 125,000 sq. ft.

Architects: Reynolds, Smith & Hills; AECOM; PSA Dewberry

Construction Manager: Turner Construction

Contractor: Williams Brothers Construction

Baggage equipment: Siemens

Jet Bridges: Thyssen Krupp Airport Systems

Security: VSS

Video Systems: Genetec, 3VR

Seating: Widmar, Herman Miller

Flight Information Display System: Infax

Exit Lane Optical Turnstiles: Boon Edam

Exit Lane Doors: Stanley

building a new terminal was preferable to trying to bring the old building up to current code and make it more efficient, he relates. Crews subsequently broke ground on the $65 million project in November 2008.

PIA received roughly $20 million in federal funding, including entitlements as well as discretionary and stimulus funds. Matching state funds covered part of the apron project; the rest was paid for with local bonding, Olson reports.

Around the time of the groundbreaking, the airport's name was changed from Greater Peoria Regional Airport to General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport, in honor of the retired four-star general born in Peoria. A statue of Downing's likeness, donated by Ross Perot, and a memorial garden financed by his namesake foundation greet travelers at the airport's main entrance road. The foundation also sponsors a display inside the new terminal, with the general's military decorations and an educational touch-screen video about his life.

 Single-Floor Service

The design of the terminal reflects the local area, Olson relates, and was led by an architectural team of Reynolds, Smith & Hills; PSA Dewberry; and AECOM. Curved walls and ceiling surfaces tie the airport to the Illinois River that runs through the city of Peoria; the color scheme further supports the connection.

The new terminal is shaped like a capital letter H lying on its side. The airport's security checkpoint area forms the crossbar of the H; the boarding concourse forms the airside leg and the ticketing lobby/bag claim area form the opposite landside leg.

"When you come out of the boarding concourse, you come past the security hallway, make a right turn and there are your rental cars and bag claim," Olson explains. "For us, that's a really exciting improvement because it's all on one level." In the old terminal, bag claim was "buried" in the basement of the building.

Olson describes the new terminal as having an open and airy feel, with lots of glass that allows passengers in the boarding concourse clear views of the ramp and aircraft.

Concessions include an airside gift shop and two restaurants - a sit-down airside facility and a landside bar/grab-and-go option, both locally operated.

The airport designed and built out all the tenant space, making them turnkey operations for vendors. "In the past, this community has had difficulties maintaining a restaurant," Olson relates, noting that the board wanted a full-service restaurant able to offer a variety of menu choices.

In the ticketing lobby, there are ten counters for PIA's current carriers: Allegiant, code sharing partners of American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines. In 2010, Peoria served just over 511,000 passengers - charting its fifth-best year, Olson reports.

The new terminal poses PIA to handle about twice its current passenger load. In terms of office space, Olson says it could fit one-and-a-half more airlines, but the facility was also designed to expand laterally if necessary.

The airlines supply their own equipment and computers; the airport supplies the network backbone. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the terminal.

Tight Fit

The new terminal is located immediately adjacent to the old - so close, in fact, that parts of the new terminal cannot be used until the old terminal is demolished.

In addition, a portion of the original terminal had to be demolished to allow new construction to begin. This posed challenges because one of the airlines had to be relocated and share a gate with another airline. "That became kind of a scheduling headache," Olson recalls. The two airlines shared a jet bridge, and the airport established a ground-loading position to use when schedules overlapped.

The new terminal sits on the previous rental car ready lot; so the consolidated rental car facility had to be demolished to make room for the new terminal. Once the old terminal building is demolished, the new rental car ready lot will be constructed. Currently, about 100 spaces in the main airport parking lot are being used for that purpose. "We'd like to have those spaces back," Olson says.

Airside, the project also included an aircraft parking apron expansion.

Moving Day

A Tuesday was chosen for moving operations from the old terminal to the new, because the airlines' schedules are lightest that day. The most critical component of the switchover was allowing TSA ample time to move its screening equipment, Olson explains.

To ease the transition, TSA reduced its capacity to one checkpoint as soon as the morning rush was done and began moving equipment around noon, he recalls. Initial preparations, however, had really begun back in December 2009, when TSA installed a new CT80 baggage scanner. The early delivery allowed officers time to gain experience with the new unit before moving into the new building. TSA then took delivery of a second unit in the new terminal, so only one unit had to be relocated on moving day.

Free Parking, Premier Perks

Like its neighboring airports, PIA offers free parking; so it created a premier customer service/frequent traveler program to differentiate itself from the competition. The program allows companies or individual travelers to purchase a $720 annual pass that provides access to parking lots close to the terminal and a lounge that includes comfortable leather furniture, refreshments and semi-private workspaces.

The former terminal had a similar facility, the Skyway Business Lounge. But the new program expands the concept and provides members with a "top-level, first-class experience," says Olson. The extra service, he adds, will make traveling out of PIA a "more desirable experience" than traveling out of other nearby airports.

Exit Optics

Meeting exit lane requirements has long been a challenge at PIA, but Olson is pleased with the airport's latest solution. In the old terminal, TSA staffed the exit lane to prevent visitors from running up a nearby down escalator to gain access to the secured area. In the new terminal, TSA was not able to staff the exit lane and the airport did not have the funds to staff the area itself. Instead, the airport installed optical turnstiles connected to a sliding door. If a traveler attempts to go the wrong way, an alarm sounds and the sliding door locks closed.

When compared to the cost of staffing the exit lane through the local sheriff's department, the new Stanley doors and Boon Edam optical turnstiles will pay for themselves in about a year, estimates Olson.

With new exit lane equipment in place and operations successfully transferred to the new terminal, Olson's next big project is securing funding to replace PIA's aging control tower. Because it's co-located with the old terminal, taking the tower apart without impacting operations will be a difficult task. "The same things that made the building untenable as a terminal also make it very difficult to maintain and operate as a control tower," he explains.


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