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Chris Jones

Airport Welcomes New Wing

18 April 2005

McCarran International Airport on Friday opened a $125 million addition to its D-gates concourse, an 11-gate northeast wing that will initially enable the nation's sixth-busiest airport to handle approximately 3.1 million more passengers per year.

The D-gates expansion comes less than two weeks before the scheduled debut of Wynn Las Vegas, a $2.7 billion hotel-casino that's the first of several major additions now under way or under consideration along an already busy Strip corridor. The casino expansions have many believing the record growth the local tourism industry enjoyed a decade or so ago could be surpassed.Advertisement

"This is crucial to us because you've probably noticed there are a lot of hotel rooms under construction," Randall Walker, Clark County aviation director, said during a Friday ceremony marking the opening of the northeast wing. "We're always trying to stay ahead of the community and its growth.

"That's a very difficult challenge, particularly when we go through a growth wave like we're about to enter."

In addition to Wynn Las Vegas, which opens April 28, other planned hotel-casino projects include the Palazzo, a 3,000-room sister resort to The Venetian; Red Rock Station, an 850-room project now rising in Summerlin; a 950-room tower at Caesars Palace; and the 660-room South Coast on Las Vegas Boulevard South near Silverado Ranch Boulevard.

Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, who was on hand to open McCarran's first major expansion since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said local leaders are obligated to make sure visitors enjoy their time in Southern Nevada. A smooth airport experience is a key element of that goal, he said, adding the new D gates are a positive step toward addressing future traveler needs.

"The thing that defines this community is its tremendous growth," Reid said "And in that story, the airport has been a chapter."

JetBlue Airways is the first carrier to occupy the new wing, with Continental and Alaska airlines soon to follow. Before he caught a Friday afternoon JetBlue flight to Long Beach, Calif., Alaskan Tony Bustamante said he was impressed by McCarran's latest addition.

"It's always nice to have a clean facility," Bustamante said from the new D wing. "And from the time I got out of the cab to the time I got here, I think only 12 to 15 minutes passed. "That's a big plus in my book."

Walker also praised the new wing's aesthetics, which include original artwork by painters Harold Bradford and Roy Purcell, as well as a bladelike roof and window film that both limit heat caused by sunlight.

McCarran's D concourse opened in summer 1998 at a cost of $345 million. Its 26 gates were quickly used to near capacity, and the following June, Walker went back before the County Commission seeking another $150 million for an expansion.

In 2000, McCarran hosted a then-record nearly 36.9 million passengers, and the next year, local air traffic was on pace to top that total until the Sept. 11 terror attacks drastically curtailed air travel worldwide. Work on several airport projects was halted for several months until the aviation industry rebounded. Construction on the D-gates expansion resumed in first quarter 2003.

McCarran also plans to add a 10-gate northwest wing to the D gates, a step that would effectively complete that concourse. Plans also call for the D concourse to link to the airport's planned Terminal 3, a $1 billion project scheduled to open off of Russell Road in mid-2010. Should each of those projects be completed as planned, McCarran would reach build-out with 120 passenger gates.