EVERETT — Brett Smith has traveled a lot in his career. He’s been in and out of airports across the country.
That’s given him valuable experience for his task at hand — developing Everett’s airport terminal.
Smith is the founder and CEO of Propeller Airports, a for-profit company that’s building the commercial terminal at Paine Field.
The terminal is scheduled to be finished in July and open in September. Two airlines, United and Alaska, have committed to flying out of it.
In his travels, he’s seen beautiful, successful airports and ones that miss the mark.
“The ones that are really good, a lot of thought has gone into it,” Smith said. “I can tell you that’s what I spend all of my time thinking about — Paine Field. It’s easy to put up a terminal, it’s hard to do it right.”
The 27,000-square-foot, two-gate terminal between Paine Field’s administrative offices and the airport control tower was designed by Denver-based Fentress Architects and is being built by Fisher Construction Group of Burlington.
The terminal should be popular. It can take an hour and a half or longer to get from Snohomish County to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the closest airport with scheduled air service.
And Sea-Tac is becoming more crowded each year. Sea-Tac went from being the 13th-busiest airport in the U.S., with 20.1 million travelers in 2015, to the ninth-busiest, with 21.9 million travelers in 2016, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Smith is not saying how much is being spent to build the Everett terminal. This is the first commercial passenger terminal for Propeller, which is leasing 11 acres from Snohomish County at Paine Field in exchange for $429,000 per year in rent, plus a share of flight and parking revenues.
Smith has his hands in the thousands of details behind the look and feel of the terminal. He describes the project as having “a lot of glass, a lot of Pacific Northwest in it, a lot of wood, we really want it to match the region.”
He also wants this airport to be one people choose not just because of proximity but also experience.
He envisions the experience like that of a hotel — people walk through the door into a lobby to meet a concierge.
“Once you’re past security, you’ll walk into what looks like a living room with two fireplaces and a bar and a place to get something to eat,” Smith said. “There will be huge glass windows, you can look out onto the mountain range. I think it’s going to be special.”
The terminal will feature two jet bridges at the gates. Many smaller airports have people walk across the ramp to board the plane. That would save Propeller money. But it would also create a problem for travelers.
“It rains a lot,” Smith said. “I don’t want people to go outside.”
In fact, Propeller is splurging on glass jet bridges.
“There’s such beautiful scenery, we’re taking the extra step, we’re spending the extra money for glass so that by the time you walk into the terminal until the time you board the planes it will be a pleasant experience,” he said.
Building an air terminal from the ground up means the design can include the latest technology.
For instance, he notes that most airports have only a handful of USB ports, with small crowds huddled around them, trying to recharge their phones and devices.
“You won’t have to do that here,” Smith said. “We’re doing painstaking measures to make sure every seat has it.”
He’s not naming names for the restaurant or bar, but he said it won’t be what is seen in every airport. He said there will also be at least one or two coffee kiosks.
“Can you not have a coffee bar in Seattle?” he joked.
He said he’s been approached by car rental companies but hasn’t made any decisions on which ones will be in the terminal. Propeller is still determining the number of parking spaces. It will be a lot, not a parking garage.
The company plans to offer valet parking. As a private company, Smith is trying to determine conveniences that travelers and business folks will be interested in.
Maybe that means that travelers drop off their car with their laundry. When they return, they pick up their car and their freshly laundered clothing.
Still, he notes there’s a balance between offering desired services and nickeling-and-diming customers. He wants to offer what travelers value and avoid making it feel like they’re opening their wallet at every turn.
For instance, most airports charge a couple of dollars to lease luggage carts. The air terminal in Everett will offer the carts for free, Smith said.
“We really want our customers to feel like they’re getting value for their money,” Smith said.
Most of the airports in the U.S. are owned and operated by counties, cities or ports. Around the world, other airports have privatized such as Heathrow in London.
Smith started in the software business, and he said he liked the business but he didn’t love it. Starting a business to build private airports is something he’s found that he loves.
His company was looking for a place to build a private commercial air terminal and contacts at airlines mentioned Snohomish County.
He then was approached by business people in the community. He flew in to stay at a hotel late on a Sunday night and drove from Sea-Tac to Mukilteo.
“There’s no traffic at 10 o’clock on Sunday night, you can get here pretty quick if there’s zero traffic,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘Will this work?’ The next day, I missed three flights sitting in two hours of traffic and I’m like, ‘Now I understand.’”
Snohomish County has lost out on companies that have looked to relocate or expand operations due to a lack of a nearby airport, said Patrick Pierce, CEO and president of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.
Sometimes, the county is eliminated before a search is really under way, he said. Access to a local airport is usually in the top 5 of site selection criteria and Sea-Tac International Airport doesn’t qualify, he said.
“Any way we can make the movement of people and goods easier in and out of Snohomish County, the more opportunities that it gives us to attract companies and talent,” Pierce said.
Another benefit of commercial flights at Paine Field will be to target hub city for outbound flights. There could be firms that might want to move some operations to the lower cost Puget Sound area, but still be a short flight distance away, Pierce said.
United announced six daily flights to its hubs in Denver and San Francisco. Alaska plans up to nine daily flights, but isn’t likely to announce specific destinations until early this year. Some possible contenders are thought to include Portland, Spokane, the Bay Area and southern California.
Propeller has already reached out to Everett Transit and is planning a way for buses to drive to the airport and turn around, said Sabina Popa, program manager for the agency. Everett Transit already has one route that goes there throughout the day.
Community Transit also has one route that stops by the new airport terminal, said Martin Munguia, a spokesman of the agency.
The frequency of the route could go up once the airline schedules are released. Also, Community Transit is planning a Swift Line with stops several times an hour outside the terminal.
Sound Transit is planning a light rail route that will run to the Boeing plant near Paine Field. Where the light-rail terminal will end — and how close it will be to the airport terminal — will be planned in 2020.
Smith is cognizant that this terminal will serve thousands of Snohomish County travelers.
“Seattle is not going to be listed in our terminal. However, with that said, when you go to Expedia or go directly to Alaska (on the web), it will give you an option for all local airports,” Smith said.
Inside the terminal, all signage will be about Everett.
“This is Everett’s airport and that’s the end of it,” Smith said.
Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; firstname.lastname@example.org; @HBJnews.
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