As ILM begins recovering flights and travelers lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, projects are progressing that will change the airport’s look and feel in coming years.
Currently, Monteith Construction Corp., Wilmington International Airport’s (ILM) contractor for its $61 million terminal expansion and renovation project, is working on a building expansion with a large steel and glass atrium, adding about 78,000 square feet to the airport.
The work is part of the project’s final phase, expected to be complete at the end of 2022.
The terminal expansion and renovation, the largest project in ILM’s history, and other developments coming down the pipeline are expected to bring more offerings to ILM.
“We’re still going to have the hometown feel at the airport, and we’re not looking to change that,” said Granseur Dick, ILM’s facilities director, of the three-phase project.
Other activities include a new fixed-based operator, convenience store and other possible interest in ILM’s business park.
Each of the developments, however, are needed to support an ever-growing region.
When the terminal development is complete, travelers will find a bigger and brighter space inside ILM’s building, Dick said. Passengers will also find it easier to move within the airport and have more options for restaurants and amenities.
“You’re stepping off from a plane into a space that is designed to welcome you to our coastal region with a wide-open feeling. We’re going to have natural elements that are going to be included in lots of details, everything from the wayfinding signage, all the way to special pieces of artwork designed by local artists,” Dick said.
The project – for work in all three construction contracts with Monteith – is about 63% complete, he said.
On top of building the steel structure for the main gate concourse area, the contractor has done masonry work on the new terminal and is working to install the roof, windows and external doors, Dick said. Interior work is ongoing, and construction crews anticipate beginning to hang drywall later this spring.
ILM officials said they are hopeful the space will continue to serve the region’s travel needs, as more people start to feel more confident flying again. Vaccines and other measures have eased travelers back, and airlines have increased flight schedules.
The final phase is about a month ahead of schedule due to less travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, ILM is also starting to consider additional parking, which is outlined in a feasibility study conducted in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
As travel starts to recover, ILM will look at its options, Dick said.
ILM’s spring travel numbers have appeared to be improving, so the airport plans to begin designing at least one new parking lot in the upcoming fiscal year, he said. ILM will either construct a new lot or hold the design until passenger travel triggers the need for additional parking spaces.
“We expect that if passenger traffic returns, we will be investing in new parking facilities,” Dick said. “So that means we will have more options for passengers who are parking to leave their vehicles, better signage for finding parking facilities and also capacity to grow in our parking facilities.”
A second fixed-base operator (FBO) on ILM’s property will offer more general aviation services to the region, officials said.
Marathon FBO Partners, doing business as Aero Center Wilmington, is under a lease agreement with the airport and plans to build the area’s second FBO facility this spring.
The new facility will include two aviation hangers, one at 15,000 square feet and the other at 10,000 square feet, and FBO building and offices.
There is currently only one FBO on ILM’s property, Modern Aviation- Wilmington, previously Air Wilmington before changing names and new ownership in 2019. That FBO has been operating on airport grounds for more than 40 years.
Aero Center Wilmington will be developed on more than 6 acres. Pending permits, the new FBO is expected to be operational by the fourth quarter.
“The addition of Aero Center Wilmington provides options to our aviation users for fueling, maintenance and mechanical services,” airport director Julie Wilsey said. “They will also construct additional community hangar space. By the end of 2021, customers will have a choice of two full-service FBOs at ILM.”
The Business Park
Travelers to the airport over the next few years could see growth as well at the ILM Business Park, a 140- acre site on airport property.
ILM is still looking to bring a hotel to the airport’s grounds; however, interest has slowed down since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, said Carol LeTellier, ILM’s business development director.
Airport officials in 2019 began looking to identify a franchise opportunity, hotel operator or developer for a three-story flagship hotel at ILM to accommodate travelers staying near the airport.
“We are still marketing the site and we believe it is only a matter of time,” LeTellier said. “We anticipate the site to be most suitable for a 100-room hotel.”
The hotel, however, is only one aspect of marketing efforts at ILM’s business park. LeTellier said the airport is also seeking prospects to build on land there, and in recent months, there has been some interest.
“One company has expressed an interest in building industrial buildings, but we have nothing to report on that yet,” LeTellier added.
A 22-acre airside site is being pitched for industries that have aircraft or require airside access, including air cargo, freight forwarders, distributors, logistics companies and exporters.
The site was previously used for hangars that were demolished several years ago.
A new convenience store planned at the corner of North 23rd Street and Airport Boulevard, across from the ILM entrance sign, also is in the works, Dick said.
“The convenience store/gas station, when opened, will provide a modern new building with fuel for ILM’s travelers, guests and employees,” LeTellier said. “Its offerings will include hot and cold food, groceries, toiletries, beer, wine and more.”
Following permit approvals, construction on the gas station and convenience store is expected to start later this year.
“As we continue to build airport infrastructure to meet the transportation needs of our growing region,” Dick said, “we are better able to support economic growth as a gateway to the world economy for our area businesses.”