Plans for Detroit Airport Terminal Let in the Light for Passengers

Fast-forward to summer 2008. You're catching a flight on Spirit Airlines. Don't look for the pale, green-blue tower or the turquoise siding of the Smith Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport.

Instead, look for a gleaming glass rectangle that will top the North Terminal, the final construction project that -- coupled with the 3-year-old McNamara Terminal -- will give metro Detroiters an entirely new airport in less than a decade.

In preliminary designs, the first introduced to the public, architect Gensler unveiled a bright, airy look that will replace the Smith's dimly lit hallways and low ceilings. The design for the half-mile-long terminal appears similar to the McNamara Terminal's.

The building's centerpiece is a 660-foot-long horizontal glass rectangle that serves as a foyer. On their way to the ticket counter, departing passengers will walk through the high-ceilinged foyer, which stands 45 feet above the departures curb. Arriving passengers will pass through it as they walk from their gates to an escalator down to baggage claim.

The intent is to allow natural light into the terminal, said Bill Hartman, Gensler's design principal and principal in charge of the project.

"People ... are at ease when they have natural daylight," Hartman said. A light glaze on the glass means that even on overcast days, the terminal will be flush with light, he said.

The $443-million project will give most of the airlines a new home. It will hold 26 gates for carriers including Spirit, Southwest Airlines and Independence Airlines, and can expand to 31 gates.

Upstairs will be the ticket counters, e-ticket machines and gates.

Downstairs, the terminal will hold a customs and immigration area, baggage handling and screening rooms and five baggage carousels, with room for a sixth.

The project is slated to open in 2008, despite concerns that the airport's hub carrier, Northwest Airlines Inc., is considering a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Airport management would discuss slowing down the project if Northwest files for bankruptcy, said airport spokesman Michael Conway.

To make way for the new terminal, the airport plans to demolish the Davey Terminal, home to Northwest before it moved into the $1.2-billion McNamara Terminal in 2002.

The airport has hired Ann Arbor-based Environmental Consulting Group for $250,000 to remove asbestos from the vacant Davey Terminal and Marriott Hotel, which also will be demolished. The Davey is slated to be demolished in September, Conway said.

The Smith Terminal also is scheduled for demolition, but not until the new terminal is built.