Long Beach Airport ceremoniously breaks ground for new passenger concourse

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An upgrade is on the calendar for the Long Beach Airport. Officials ceremoniously broke ground Wednesday on a new passenger concourse that will give travelers a little more room and amenities.

The Long Beach Airport modernization project is a scaled-down version of an earlier, more ambitious and controversial upgrade. It preserves the Art Deco-style main terminal and replaces existing crowded bungalows with a spacious concourse that'll be more functional, streamlined and eco-friendly than fancy.

Passengers will be able to wait for flights in an atrium with drought-resistant gardens and palms. The new concourse includes free wireless access, shops and eateries.

Mayor Bob Foster says the airport's overdue for some improvements. "What it means to our city is we're going to have a modern airport with modern conveniences, great concessions, a much more comfortable area for people to wait. It's going to make this airport a lot better and more convenient, but it will still be the airport you'll want to use because you can still get in and out of here very quickly."

The $45 million passenger concourse project is certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The building will include rooftop solar panels to generate 13 percent of the facility's energy. Officials say the construction will provide 350 local jobs.

The concourse is one phase of a $140 million upgrade that includes a new parking structure, rehabilitation of the main terminal building and improvements to the air carrier ramp.

The city has a strict court-tested airport noise abatement ordinance and a history of neighborhood resistance to airport expansion. Noise restrictions limit the number of commercial airport flights to 41 per day, and that won't change, so the upgrade represents more of a renovation for passenger comfort and convenience, than an expansion of air travel services.

City Councilmember Rae Gabelich, who was a member of a community group that fought airport expansion before being elected in 2004, praised the modernization at the groundbreaking. "We're here to celebrate right-sizing the airport. It's a great day. We're going to move forward in a very positive fashion, and it's going to be good for the neighborhoods; it's going to be good for the economy. It's going to support us for many, many years to come."

Since discount carrier JetBlue started using Long Beach Airport about a decade ago, passenger volume has risen from almost a million to more than 3 million a year.

The concourse is scheduled to be completed in 2013. A new parking garage is currently under construction.