PORTLAND – Travelers who use the Portland International Jetport beginning Sunday morning will experience a new terminal that seeks to retain a Maine sense of place while incorporating the efficiency and amenities of a modern big-city airport.
They will notice local retailers, such as Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll and, soon, Cool as a Moose. They will soon see an aquatic display of Maine’s marine environment.
They also will appreciate a streamlined check-in process, with as many as five security screening lines. And many visitors will arrive via a new road system and a skybridge that connects the parking garage to an airy, 17,000-square-foot concourse.
Officials and politicians will mark the opening of the $75 million terminal at 9:30 a.m. today. The public is invited to a free tour of the facility from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The first flights using the new terminal will take off early Sunday morning.
For people who are used to the jetport’s homey but outdated and cramped quarters, entering the new, 145,000-square-foot terminal seems like arriving in a different city. Paul Bradbury, the jetport’s manager, is almost apologetic about the contrast.
“It still has a smaller airport feel, but it will be more efficient,” he said.
Workers have been scrambling in recent weeks, often laboring on nights and weekends, to complete the job before Sunday. An average of 100 workers a day have spent the past 22 months on the project, which was paid for largely by passenger fees.
Travelers will enter a soaring, glass-walled hall with polished, terrazzo-look concrete floors and crowned with a beamed pine ceiling. They will pass through security equipment that includes the latest imaging technology, displaying a body as a stick figure — not a naked person.
There’s plenty of room beyond security to get organized, before heading down to four new gates, three of which will open immediately. Passengers can wait in seats that include power and USB terminals for computers and chargers. They can sit directly across from a new food court that includes Burger King and the Bean restaurant, which will sell live lobsters to go.
As many as 30 new employees will work at the food court, said Lee Negley, manager for the food service operator, HMS Host. Earlier this week, workers were finishing the food court, which includes Bean’s imitation cedar-shake siding and red barn door.
“The Bean lobster restaurant will bring a Maine feel to the airport,” he said.
A floor below, US Airways and JetBlue will occupy a spacious new ticketing lobby with drop-off access from the terminal roadway. The other carriers will remain until February in the existing terminal, including AirTran, which has merged with Southwest Airlines. Jetport officials expect that passengers will be able to book flights to Southwest destinations by next spring.
The jetport is on track to move about 1.8 million travelers this year.
Essential to the new terminal design is a separation of inbound and outbound activity, to avoid the gridlock that passengers have experienced at the jetport during busy hours. Through signs, layout and the placement of escalators, planners have sought to create an efficient and logical flow of people.
“The architecture is very supportive of where you need to be next,” Bradbury said.
The pending vacancies in the old terminal will free up space that Bradbury hopes will entice new flights or airlines in the future.
Although the industry has been consolidating during the economic downturn, the jetport would someday like to offer non-stop service to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for instance, long a wish of winter vacationers and cruisers.
“There are opportunities,” he said. “I remain bullish that this is a great market and that the airlines recognize that.”
Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: