GREEN — The Akron-Canton Airport was filled with a hefty bank of pay phones when its first contemporary gate area opened 56 years ago.
How times have changed.
The area, which now serves American and Delta planes, is outdated and unable to meet the needs of today’s passengers armed with cell phones and expectations of modern amenities — not to mention the needs of modern aircraft, airport President and CEO Rick McQueen said.
The airport is ready to change that with a $34 million gate expansion project that gets under way late next month.
Airport, government, business and community leaders held a ceremonial groundbreaking on the de-icing pad to celebrate the upcoming construction of a two-story, 41,600-square-foot gate area that will include charging stations for smartphones, a sit-down restaurant and fast-food options such as Cinnabon and Arby’s, business lounge, mothers’ room, kids play area and more overall space for waiting and arriving passengers.
It also will feature bridges at every gate so passengers won’t have to step outside while boarding or leaving a plane.
As for pay phones? The airport has two remaining. But no one uses them, McQueen said with a laugh.
The project, which will be done in phases, is the final project in a 10-year, $110 million plan to remodel and modernize the regional airport. It also involves demolishing the old gate area and building a new apron for planes.
The new gate area, located on the south side of the terminal, is expected to open late next year or in the spring of 2020.
The expansion comes at a time when Akron-Canton has seen the number of passengers using the facility fall — from a high of 1.84 million in 2012 to 1.27 million last year.
But McQueen, who has worked at the airport for 36 years, said it’s the perfect time to expand.
"I’ve seen so many ups and downs, as you could imagine," he said. "There’s always an up after a down. And it’s coming.
"When you look at what’s going on in our region, the Hall of Fame Village, oil and gas, everything going on in downtown Akron, it’s going to start to grow. There is going to be a need for two strong airports in Northeast Ohio."
The groundbreaking featured remarks by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, Stark County Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro.
"With a roaring economy and a very optimistic outlook, this is really the time to do it because if you wait, you’ll be left behind," Gibbs said.