KENNER, La. (AP) -- New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city plans a new $650 million terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in suburban Kenner. Backers say the project will create 13,000 new jobs while increasing convenience for passengers and providing a more modern, cost-efficient facility to lower costs for airlines.
The terminal would be on the north side of the existing terminal structure, which is more than 50 years old.
Landrieu said officials hope to break ground early next year and have the new building open by May 5, 2018 — when the city celebrates the 300th anniversary of its founding as a French colony.
Landrieu outlined the plans at a Wednesday news conference after a meeting of the board that oversees the airport. He was joined by elected officials from surrounding areas, including Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni. Also on hand was Southwest Airlines executive Bob Montgomery, who said the project will bring much-needed improvements to the airport.
"It can be done in a way that protects low fares and advances travel into New Orleans," Montgomery said.
Wednesday's announcement followed a study that the city's Aviation Board launched in 2011. A summary of the new project, and why it is needed, noted that mechanical and electrical systems in the facility need replacing. It also said that, while the airport has undergone upgrades over the years, significant portions "remain as originally designed."
Modern aircraft, changing security requirements and the need for better access to nearby Interstate 10 were among the study team's considerations. The city says the team looked at options that included refurbishment or expansions of the existing terminal or construction of new terminals on the west or north sides.
The north side project eventually was selected.
"The beauty of this plan is you don't have to build any new runways," Landrieu said.
He and City Council member Latoya Cantrell stressed that the project will be funded through self-generated airport funds and federal and state grants — and therefore won't come out of funds the city needs for street light and road repairs and vital services.
The city said the project could eventually include a power plant and improved highway access that would bring the cost to $826 million.
More than $300 million in renovations and upgrades to the current terminal — including improvements to baggage claim and a new ticket lobby — will not go to waste, Landrieu and City Council member Susan Guidry said. The renovations were needed in advance of the arrival of thousands of visitors for this year's Super Bowl, Landrieu said, adding that the existing terminal will be in use for another five years before it is re-purposed.
Possible uses for existing facilities include commercial cargo and charter flight facilities along with space for airport staff, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration.
The airport is owned by the city though it is in neighboring Jefferson Parish. It is governed by a board that includes representatives from parishes surrounding New Orleans.
Metro Airport Aviation Director Anthony Marino argues that it's unfair to pay his employees the same as other city-parish workers.
"We're putting all of our efforts towards building traffic to pre-Katrina levels, and while that's happening we're not going to be looking at expansion."