LONG BEACH - If it weren't for the commercial airplanes visible through tall glass walls, travelers might mistake the new concourse at the Long Beach Airport for a resort hotel.
Visitors will now be greeted by stylish new decor including plush red seats, elongated fire pits and a garden walkway - part of a renovation officials showed off Wednesday.
The new concourse - which will feature two terminal buildings, 4,200 square feet of outdoor seating and more than 10,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space for Long Beach merchants - is set to open to airline ticket holders next Wednesday.
The public will be able to check it out before the checkpoints are put in place Sunday (tour reservations are required).
"It's a community asset," Airport Executive Director Mario Rodriguez said in advance of the Wednesday evening unveiling that was attended by local dignitaries.
"It really is what we're trying to build here. It's their airport."
The $45 million terminal project - which is five months ahead of schedule and on budget - has been years in the making. The work was funded entirely through airport revenue.
The airport had already built a new parking garage as well as part of the modernization overhaul.
Several obstacles delayed the project, including a drawn-out battle over its size and how it could affect the quality of life of neighbors living under the flight path. A lawsuit by the Long Beach Parent Teacher Association claiming that the project would lead to more flights, in turn increasing noise and pollution, also slowed the renovation.
Also raising the stakes was JetBlue CEO Dave Barger's 2009 comment to an airline industry blogger about JetBlue pulling out of Long Beach because of the delays.
JetBlue officials said this week they are delighted with the project's turnout.
"We think it will put Long Beach back on the customer service map," said Robert Land, a top JetBlue executive.
Long Beach Airport officials said they wanted to approach the project differently than other airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, which is in the midst of building the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.
Coincidentally, that terminal was supposed to open next Wednesday, but has been delayed in part due to weather.
Other projects are designed with 80 feet to 100 feet of ceiling space that, "unless you are a bird or a balloon, you really can't feel," Rodriguez said.
"We cut out all those things that are unnecessary and concentrated on things that deal specifically with the customer."
That included bringing in local vendors such as Polly's Coffee, Sweet Jill's Bakery, 4th Street Vine, George's Greek Cafe and second locations for Long Beach Clothing Co., which will be called 562 Experience, and McKenna's on the Bay, whose second restaurant will be named McKenna's on the Fly.
Gregg Paradies of The Paradies Shops, which has been operating the concessions at Long Beach Airport since 2005, said the move to have mainly local vendors is unusual in the industry.
"About 50 percent of your average airport program is locally branded," he said. "It's going to be unique and truly have a home feel for Long Beach when you get off that place. Airports in today's world are doing more of the localization because airports are the front door and back door to the city, the first impression and last impression."
That local approach, Rodriguez said, has also helped to keep the project cost-effective.
Instead of a lofty "Taj Mahal size" space with "Taj Mahal price tags," Rodriguez said, "We designed something that's comfortable, that feels more or less like a high-end hotel."
The new concourse has been generating a lot of interest from privatized airports in Europe and a couple of Chinese delegates, Rodriguez said.
"I think (the new concourse) will make it a model for other airports," said Roy Williams, an aviation expert and consultant. "I think Long Beach is going to set a good standard for ease and convenience with these amenities."
Those amenities are some of the things airports are now trying to offer, aviation expert Jack Keady said.
"Airports everywhere are trying to do this to please customers," offering things such as free Wi-Fi and massages, he said. "They are trying to enrich the customer experience because, let's face it, nobody is happy when they get on a plane and have to squeeze into a seat."