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Originally published May 9, 2012 at 8:41 PM | Page modified May 10, 2012 at 9:19 AM

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Sea-Tac airport shows off $400 million rental-car hub

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's new rental-car facility opens this month. The five-story, $400 million facility is off-site and is expected to free up more parking in the airport garage and cut the number of shuttles near the terminal.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport unveiled its new $400 million hub for rental cars Wednesday, a gleaming glass and concrete portal that can handle 14,000 rental-car transactions a day.

The five-story facility covers 23 acres on a hillside just east of the airport. Moving rental cars off-site gets them out of the airport's parking garage — freeing up more parking — and should ease traffic by cutting the number of shuttles near the terminal.

A fleet of natural-gas-powered shuttle buses will take customers on the five-minute trip from the airport to one main facility when it opens next Thursday.

The project was 14 years in the making and endured many setbacks.

The Port of Seattle Commission voted to stop construction no fewer than four times since 1998, the year members chose the location, because of funding and other problems. The facility also prompted a new state law in 2005 that allowed the airport to collect a $6-per-day fee on rental cars. That fee will repay the 30-year bonds on the project, which relies on no local taxes.

Locals didn't pay for the facility — and they likely won't use it.

"For many of you, this may be the last time you ever come here," Aviation Division Managing Director Mark Reis said to a crowd gathered at a ribbon-cutting Wednesday morning.

About 20 percent of the 32 million passengers who pass through Sea-Tac each year rent a car.

Now they will be whisked by shuttle to the new facility, where they can rent from a bank of rental counters nearly as long as a football field.

Beneath them, more than 5,000 rental cars will be parked on four levels, accessible by a maze of one- and two-floor escalators. The environmentally friendly facility includes 22 carwashes that reclaim most of the water, and 48 vacuums and gas pumps.

Besides the building, the $400 million paid for a bus-maintenance facility, 29 shuttle buses, and road and terminal improvements.

The project is expected to come in about $20 million under its $419 million budget.

Those celebrating the ribbon-cutting, sipping cucumber-infused water and watching a bus drive through a big banner, said the facility is a sign of persistence.

It was funded and built during tough economic times and created about 3,900 jobs during its construction.

"You don't do something like this without a whole lot of people pulling to make it happen," said Port Commission Chairwoman Gael Tarleton. "When everything looks bleak, and when you don't think it's going to happen, there's only one real thing that makes it happen, and that's partners."

Twelve rental companies have desks at the new facility. That leaves one — Rent-a-Wreck — that didn't participate. After next Thursday, the airport won't allow Rent-a-Wreck to drive its shuttles to the airport.

It will have to drop off customers at the new facility, where they can catch a Port shuttle to the terminal.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com.

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