When Jacksonville International Airport first opened its doors on the Northside in 1968, it represented the launch of a new era for the city.
Its predecessor, Imeson Airport, was built in the early days of aviation based on speculation of future traffic but by the ‘60s it was unable to keep up with the city’s needs, which included the capacity for international flights necessitated by the arrival of the Navy years earlier.
Construction of the new, larger airport began in 1965, with local architecture firm Reynolds, Smith & Hills overseeing its design and construction on over 4,000 acres of relatively isolated land on the Northside. The firm had designed a handful of other notable city buildings, including the since-demolished Old City Hall Annex building downtown.
Jacksonville International Airport opened in 1968. The Imeson Airport, which had served as the city’s municipal airport for over 40 years, was soon redeveloped as an industrial park.
The addition of an international airport was quite a boon for the newly-consolidated city of Jacksonville, but air traffic grew modestly at first. The airport hit the 2-million-passenger mark for the first time in 1982 – though it also moved around 5 million tons of cargo each year by then. Nonetheless, the milestone prompted the city to initiate plans for redeveloping its terminal building.
RS&H again led design efforts for the new $100 million, three-concourse terminal building, which was completed in the early ‘90s. By the end of the decade, the airport handled well over 4 million passengers each year with flights from over a dozen different airlines, prompting yet another round of expansions.
In the early 2000s, a new parking garage was added to serve the airport, while the terminal building’s concessions, ticketing, and baggage areas all received upgrades. RS&H again led the improvement efforts. The second phase of improvements called for rebuilding each of the airport’s three concourses; Concourses A and C were rebuilt, but Concourse B was instead demolished in 2009 due to decreased traffic brought about by a recession.
Luckily, in recent years, traffic at the airport has bounced back. Last year, it saw over 7 million passengers in total, prompting the Jacksonville Aviation Authority to revisit its earlier plans for Concourse B’s redevelopment.
Construction was set to begin this fall on a renewed Concourse B project, but all work has been postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It may take quite a while for air traffic to bounce back again this time. But when it does, it’s likely that JIA will be ready to grow once more.