A look inside the changing Terminal 1 at RDU
Feb. 05, 2014 @ 06:19 PM

Staying out of the way of construction workers and above the sound of power tools, Raleigh-Durham International Airport officials on Wednesday offered a sneak peek of the airport’s newly renovated Terminal 1.

Work started in the summer of 2012 on a section of Terminal 1 that was first built in 1982. Southwest Airlines is scheduled to begin operating March 2 out of five of nine gates in the renovated terminal. The airline has been housed in an older section of the terminal during the renovations. That section, which dates to 1955, will be demolished after the newly renovated portion opens.

“Today, you have a world-class airport that will fit the needs of the community today,” said airport spokesman Andrew Sawyer, who led a tour through the renovated sections of Terminal 1.

The $68 million modernization project aims to give Terminal 1 a more intuitive traffic flow and a more spacious, well-lit feel, Sawyer said. He showed off new carousels in the baggage claim area, clusters of new seats in the airport gates that will be next to lots of electrical outlets and a second-floor security checkpoint area that is now in one single, large space with enough room for four security lanes. Previously, he said, the terminal’s security was split between two floors.

Also as part of the renovation, the ceilings were raised, Sawyer said, and larger windows were installed with translucent paneling.

There are more gates to accommodate growth by Southwest Airlines, which is now the sole carrier operating out of Terminal 1, he said, or for additional carriers.

Sawyer also pointed out three new art installations in the terminal, such as one two-story work constructed with glass and steel. Called “Metamorphosis,” the work is by English architectural glass artist Martin Donlin. It has the look of a large collage painted on glass with natural images, human silhouettes, an old North Carolina transportation map and names of North Carolina cities. The hope, Sawyer said, is that frequent travelers will find something new in the piece each time they visit. Airport officials wanted art in the renovated terminal because the airport often provides visitors with their first and last memories of a place, he said.

The terminal also will have five new shops and six new restaurants. The restaurant lineup includes the ACC American Café, Char-Grill, two Starbucks locations, Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina and La Tapenade Mediterranean Café. The eateries will not be fully operational for the public showcase of the terminal that’s slated for Feb. 15, but Sawyer said the restaurants will have tables set up in front of their spaces and will give away free food samples.

The project is the last of a series of redevelopment work at RDU, Sawyer said, that launched alongside population growth in the Triangle.

In 2011, the last phase of Terminal 2 construction was completed. The new 920,000-square-foot terminal was three times the size of the old building, which had dated to a time, Sawyer said, when American Airlines used RDU as a hub.

During that time, he said, other airlines were housed in Terminal 1. The airport is no longer a hub for the airline and when airport leaders got control of the building, he said it was torn down and replaced. Terminal 2 now houses Air Canada, Frontier Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines and its merger partner US Airways.

The airport will hold an open house in Terminal 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb.15, with more than 30 exhibits, including an RDU-themed interactive display, an exhibit from Raleigh’s Marbles Kids Museum, the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southwest Airlines. There will be food samples, giveaways from the shops, airline ticket drawings, live music and a behind-the-scenes look at the baggage-handling system.