The $1 Billion Big Build

Sacramento makes adjustments, forges ahead on new terminal complex


G. Hardy Acree, the director of airports for the Sacramento County Airport System, says he has heard a fair amount of criticism from airlines about the $1.08 billion terminal project at Sacramento International. “We agree to disagree on that point,” he comments. “Airports represent the communities, and airports really do have to take a long-term perspective on what their infrastructure requirements are. Going back ten years, the airlines were very much a part of the planning and programming effort. Unfortunately, you can’t turn projects like this on and off like a light switch.” Thus the project continues, following some cuts to the original plan, and Sacramento in 2011 will have a terminal/garage complex that is expected to meets its needs for the foreseeable future. That is helped by the fact that much emphasis has been placed on sustainability and meeting LEED certification standards.

Explains Acree, “We did have some scalability in the concept. We had a hotel that was to be integrated into the terminal; that has been deleted. There will be an on-airport hotel; it just won’t be in the terminal building.

“The companion garage is going to be about 5,500 spaces; it was also going to be part of the program. That too has been delayed, based on the latest forecast. Originally, the forecast that we were operating off of and from which we issued our first bond, which was May 2008, said then that we were going to need that parking capacity within about two years of DBO [design/build/operate] of the terminal building. And it just made economic sense at that point in time to include the garage as a part of the overall program. You’ve got the contractor there; the mobilization expenses already incurred as a result. The environmental was done.

“Now, the forecast as recent as December 2008 says we probably won’t need that capacity until about six years after DBO. Between the two of those we took about $200 million out of the program. Originally the program was $1.27 billion.

“The other side of the argument of why you need to move forward on these capital programs is that right now is a good time to build. We’re getting really good pricing, and the airlines will be the beneficiaries of having the capacity available when they come back and say, we need a gate tomorrow.”

Getting started
Acree arrived at Sacramento in December 1999 after gaining experience at international airports in Philadelphia, Anchorage, and Houston. He oversees International, Executive and Mather Airports, and Franklin Field. Topping his agenda upon arrival, relates Acree, was a new master plan for Sacramento International.

Explains Acree, “The most recent one had been done in the late ‘70s. They of course had updated their ALPs, but there was a philosophy of planning to build. One of the philosophies I learned from Jim DeLong [at Philadelphia] is, build to a plan. And the two concepts are diametrically opposite. After I got here we got a consultant on board and started the master planning process. That led us to do a number of programming exercises to arrive at a conclusion that we needed to develop infrastructure to replace aging, obsolete original equipment that was opened in 1967.”

The result of that effort is what is now billed as the Big Build — a landside terminal building with an airside concourse connected by an above ground airport people mover system. “It’s very reminiscent of what you see in Tampa or Orlando or Las Vegas,” explains Acree. “Those airports and others influenced our thinking a lot, particularly at Tampa.

“Where Orlando and Tampa differ is Tampa has the security checkpoints on the satellite concourse, whereas Orlando has it in the centralized terminal building. We looked at both of those models; in the post-9/11 environment, it appears to us that the Tampa concept works a lot better so we chose to go that direction.

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