CHICAGO -- Northwest Airlines and officials of Wayne County, Mich., have agreed to move forward with plans to build a new air terminal, providing a boost for a proposed $1 billion airport expansion.
The agreement is "positive news" for the county's plan to expand Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, said Lester Robinson, the airport's deputy director for administration and finance.
The accord, nailed down last week, is the second step in the county's six-year expansion plan, following Wayne County voter's approval last November of a $100 million bond referendum for the airport.
James Thorne, the airline's vice president of properties, said that under the agreement airline and county officials would pursue getting a schematic design for the midfield terminal that would "test its feasibility" and determine the cost.
"Yes, we want to build it, but to say we'll build it at any cost is not a fair statement," he said.
Wayne County officials have said the terminal would account for most of the $1 billion of capital spending called for under the county's six-year expansion plan that also calls for new runways, parking facilities, and other infrastructure improvements.
The design plans and cost estimates are not expected to be completed for 12 to 18 months, according to Mr. Thorne.
Mr. Robinson and Mr. Thorne both said that every typical financing option, including Federal Aviation Trust Fund money, airport revenue bonds, and the use of passenger facility charges would be considered for the project.
Mr. Robinson added that the atypical terminal Northwest has in mind also could include a retail mall development that could be financed through a private developer.
Mr. Thorne confirmed that the airline was looking at ways to change the concept of an airline terminal and that building a shopping mall could be one of the changes.
Last week, Northwest, which accounts for about 68% of the traffic at the facility, and other airlines that use the airport agreed to a $10 million revenue bond issue to fund the design phase for the new terminal and to study a redesign of the existing terminal, Mr. Robinson said. He added that the terminal redesign could push the cost of the expansion up to $1.5 billion.
"We're just not sure what we'll end up with," he said.
Mr. Robinson said the $10 million of bonds would be included in a $45 million airport revenue bond issue scheduled to be sold in September. That issue will encompass the remainder of $100 million of bond authorization for airport construction projects approved by Wayne County voters last year.
The future expansion of the airport had initially hinged on the Nov. 6 bond referendum. At that time, county officials said the bond referendum would decided future expansion of the airport and that if the measure was defeated, expansion of the facility would be over for the decade.
The referendum had been called by residents concerned about noise and pollution at the airport. They had collected enough signatures on petitions calling for a vote on the bonding authority.