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Breathing space and a sense of place for passengers at Gerald R Ford International

Gerald R Ford International Airport officially opened its newly expanded Concourse B and renovated Concourse A on January 28, 2015. The project work started in June 2013 and was delivered at a combined cost of US$12.3m.

The man behind the project, Brian Ryks, joined Gerald R Ford International Airport as the executive director in 2012. Before moving to Michigan, Ryks took part in the construction and opening of Denver International Airport (DIA) in Colorado in 1995, and undertook an US$80m terminal construction project at Duluth International Airport in Minnesota. When he arrived at Gerald R Ford Airport for his first interview, he noticed that something was missing.

“I flew into the airport in April 2012, and as an airport director you’re excited about what you’re going to see. But when I arrived on Concourse A everything was blue and gray. Nothing really visually portrayed that I was in Michigan.”

For Ryks, creating a sense of place for passengers is paramount. “The first and last impressions are important. We wanted to give each concourse more of a sense of place so that when people step off the airplane they can identify with west Michigan.

“To change that we added new terrazzo flooring that reflected some of the themes of West Michigan such as the Grand River and the Grand Rapids. We’re also very close to Lake Michigan and the beach, so you have plenty of water and sand and we wanted to reflect those color schemes in the remodeling of Concourse B. The restrooms were outdated so we renovated them using lighter colors and modern finishes. We also integrated some murals in the waiting areas including a downtown cityscape scene, a lighthouse, and some tulips and a windmill reflecting the Dutch heritage of the area.”

Although the projects allowed Ryks to create a sense of place for the passengers, the main reason for the Concourse B extension was to create additional gate space. As a result, two new gates and hold rooms were built, creating an additional 18,000ft2 for passengers.

“Our philosophy is that we don’t want to overbuild, but at the same time we want to make sure that when opportunities present themselves we have additional gates to accommodate new scheduled service opportunities.

“We try and stay ahead of the curve and this project was completed just in time because we now have three Southwest Airlines aircraft at those gates every morning. We also acquired additional service from American Airlines during this project so our gate space is being used everyday. It’s a good example of how to stay ahead of the game without overbuilding.”

As part of the Concourse B renovation, the airport wanted to create amenities that met with passengers’ expectations and again created a sense of place. This involved constructing several new food and beverage offerings beyond the TSA screening gates. In partnership with HMS Host, the airport built the Michigan Tap Room Restaurant & Bar and Grand Rapids Magazine store, as well as renovating the existing bar and bagel outlet. A new skylight was also installed to improve the use of natural lighting.

“The old concession area had four barstools and had seating for maybe 20 people,” added Ryks. “It consisted of an American Bagel outlet and a bar that was 8ft long. Michigan is known for the craft beer industry so we worked with HMS Host to create what is now the Michigan Tap Room, which has 20-25 seats at the bar and additional seating for 100 people. The menu now reflects the local area, as do the beverages in the Tap Room.”

The aim of the Concourse A renovation project was to relieve passenger congestion as well as modernize the facilities. This involved the expansion of the passenger hold rooms, as well as adding new seating, carpets and a Grand Rapids Magazine travel store. The project also included the addition of new windows and a business area with charging stations.

Ryks said, “We added more than 220 seats and electrified the area for personal devices. We changed the carpet and put in an area for business travelers. It completely changed the atmosphere in that part of the concourse. What used to be a very congested area now has a calming feel because there is enough seating for everyone and the new windows add natural light to the area. When you add more light, along with square footage, it makes the area feel like a much larger space.

“We want our passengers to have a positive experience so that they want to come back. We’re not a large airport but there’s a lot of things you can do to give people that personal touch.”

Interview by Daniel Symonds

Brian Ryks, executive director – Gerald R. Ford International Airport, will present 'Transforming the passenger experience' as part of the Customer Service & Passenger Experience session at Passenger Terminal Conference, Paris, France, on Thursday March 12, 2015. See the full program here.

February 13, 2015



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