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Airport terminal turns 10 amid praise, lofty hopes

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Local leaders celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of Pittsburgh International Airport's midfield terminal yesterday with cake for passengers, accolades for the facility and a vow to do more to develop the land surrounding it.

Glenn Mahone, left, chairman of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, talks with Robert Blose, federal security director for the airport, yesterday after a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the midfield terminal. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

As jets took off behind them, more than 150 people gathered in the terminal's landside building to toast a facility that has been rated one of the best in the world by the travelers it serves.

"Without a doubt this is the best facility in the world, the most functional facility in the world," said Kent George, executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

"It's a marvel and a world-class model," said authority board Chairman Glenn Mahone.

For the occasion, the authority brought back Fred Sargent, the Sargent Electric Co. chief executive who was one of the first to step inside the terminal after the first plane arrived from San Diego at 5:30 a.m. Oct. 1, 1992. His son, Evan, was first to step into the terminal from the jetway.

The authority also ordered 16 chocolate and white sheet cakes for the anniversary party and passed out slices to travelers in the landside building, which is used for ticketing, baggage and security, and the airside building, one of the few X-shaped boarding terminals in the world.

But even as local leaders celebrated the $1 billion terminal's successes, they acknowledged that there was still work to do, particularly in developing the 10,000 acres of county-owned land that surrounds it.

Before it opened, various studies projected that the terminal would generate from 18,000 to 30,000 jobs by 2003 through development of the land.

But reality has fallen well short of expectations.

Mahone said the airport authority is poised to take up the challenge.

A local real estate company recently identified for the authority the top eight parcels for development and the authority is hoping to use $10 million it will get over the next three years from BAA Pittsburgh, manager of the airport's Airmall, to prepare sites.

"There are still many promises to keep," Mahone said.

While conceding that development has lagged, county Chief Executive Jim Roddey said there are promising signs in the success of the Airside Business Park at the old terminal site, which will employ more than 1,000 by early next year, and in construction of two new air cargo facilities, which could mean as many as 650 jobs.

Roddey also attributed much of the large-scale commercial development in Robinson and North Fayette and the construction of a new headquarters for Dick's Sporting Goods to the proximity of the airport.

"I think we're really making significant progress," he said.

During his speech, Roddey also praised late county Commissioner Tom Foerster for his "vision, his tenacity" in getting the terminal built.

Mahone also had kind words for the Airmall, the collection of 110 shops and restaurants that has become a favorite of travelers. One reason is that its prices are competitive with those charged by similar outlets outside the airport. That was not the case at the old terminal, he said.

"You could give up your eldest child for a hot dog at the old terminal," he said.

Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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