By TED CARTER
The dash travelers often make to get through security checkpoints at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport often leaves no time for a stop at the Starbucks on the public side of the west concourse.
That is about to change with concession and retail plans Jackson Municipal Airport Authority CEO Carl Newman is set to put in motion. This includes moving the Starbucks and other concessionaires to inside the checkpoints where passengers await their flights.
“We’ve got a bad situation with food and beverage and retail,” Newman said in a recent interview.
“This building was designed before 9-11,” he said. “The majority of our food and beverage and retail space is on the public side of the concourse.”
People tend to rush right past it because they want to get through screening, Newman noted.
With the help of SI Partners, consultants who specialize in airport concessions and retail, Newman will be relocating the magazine-newsstand and knick-knack stores and concessionaries inside the checkpoints. Also, some new food, beverage and retail offerings will be in the mix, he said.
The plan entails additional floor space for the concessionaires and shops.
That is just the beginning of Newman’s plans.
“Once we get that squared away and get a chance to bank a few more dollars, we can turn to getting the concourse done.”
Getting the concourse done involves shutting down the west concourse and replacing it with a new one just north of the terminal lobby, according to Newman.
This second phase is slated for the tail end of the airport’s five-year strategic plan, Newman said.
Host Marriott will continue to run the concessions and Hudson News the retail shops.
With the new concourse will come prepared food offerings from local and regional restaurants as well as nationally branded concessionaries. “We want some local fare and flavor,” Newman said.
Newman predecessor Dirk Vanderleest put off nearly $40 million in terminal upgrades and improvements to the security checkpoints after Fitch Ratings lowered the project’s bond rating from A- to BBB+. Fitch has kept the designation in place since lowering the rating in spring 2014 on news that Southwest Airlines was ceasing service at Jackson-Evers. The current rating is still stable and investment grade, Fitch noted.
Newman said he is comfortable with taking on the debt. The BBB+ “is probably as good as it gets for airports our size, said Newman, who took over for the retired Vanderleest in early 2015 after a lengthy career as a top operations executive at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport and Houston’s George Bush International.
The terminal modernization is among several ambitious projects outlined in the 5-year strategic plan the Airport Authority recently adopted.
Also on the board is a consolidated car rental facility and hotel near the terminal.
The plan envisions a rental facility that consolidates rental car maintenance operations with rental car pick-up and drop-of operations. The current maintenance center is situated away from the airport. Rental car pick up and drop off is now on the ground floor of a parking garage next to the terminal.
Under the airport lodging proposal, the Airport Authority would enlist a private developer to design, finance and manage the hotel.
The first step is a lodging market analysis, Newman said. “We’ll let them get in and figure out what it is people are looking for and what level of service they are looking for.”
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