With commercial jets soaring above them and a swath of undeveloped land as their backdrop, dozens of local and state officials gathered Thursday to celebrate the start of construction on Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport’s nearly billion-dollar North Terminal.
The groundbreaking ceremony was brimming with congratulations for all involved and promises from the prime contractors that small and disadvantaged businesses will get their fair share of the work.
That likely was in response to recent criticism of the contractors’ record on including disadvantaged business enterprises. Although most of the work already has been bid out to subcontractors, the overall managers are below a city requirement that a third of the total work should go to disadvantaged firms.
The event also provided a chance for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, newly inaugurated Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni and a slew of others to highlight the work that led to this point by the area’s current political leadership and past administrations.
“It took generations to actually conceptualize, to buy the land, to think through, to really find the vision to actually bring us to this point,” Landrieu told the crowd gathered in a tent at the Kenner construction site. “It’s not possible when everybody’s not working together.”
Yenni, too, praised the Landrieu administration’s efforts. “This is true regionalism,” he said. City officials announced plans for the 760,500-square-foot, 30-gate terminal in 2013, nearly two years after Landrieu called for upgrading the airport and a team of consultants began weighing options. The project also will include a 2,000-car parking garage, a central utility plant and a ground transportation staging area.
There also are plans for a $17 million on-site hotel and an $87 million flyover addition from Interstate 10, a connection officials said has been needed ever since the interstate was constructed decades ago and Airline Highway lost its role as the principal route to the airport.
Although officials Thursday cited an $826 million figure for the project, developers said in December that total costs will be closer to $950 million when the other improvements are taken into account. It will be funded with a combination of airport revenue, and federal and state aviation grants.
The project is being built by the Hunt-Gibbs-Boh-Metro joint venture, consisting of the Indiana-based Hunt Construction Group and three local companies: Gibbs Construction, Boh Bros. Construction and Metro Service Group. The joint venture won the competition to build the terminal last year.
Activists criticized the venture’s record at a December meeting of the New Orleans Aviation Board, pointing out that of the project’s $532.5 million in construction work, only 28.4 percent was committed to disadvantaged firms, generally meaning those owned by minorities and women. The overall goal was 33.09 percent, and about 89 percent of work already had been awarded.
The contractors appear to have heard the complaints. “I want to say to the other minority businesses that are here ... that we recognize the charge that we’ve been given as Metro, and we will do this community proud as well as this whole contract proud,” said Jimmie Woods, Metro’s chief executive. Woods is black.
The project is expected to generate a projected $1.7 billion in economic impact from construction — creating more than 13,000 jobs — and $3.2 billion in annual economic impact on tourism.
It is slated for completion on Oct. 1, 2018, a few months after Landrieu will leave office.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.