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Lambert Proceeds With Renovations

July 16, 2008

By Ken Leiser, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 16–Lambert-St. Louis International Airport will proceed with what it deems the most important parts of the Airport Experience renovations, despite turbulent times in the airline industry.

Airport Director Richard Hrabko said Tuesday that $16.9 million worth of upgrades will begin this month.

First up will be the resurfacing the dingy-white dome above the airline ticketing counters.

Next year, new baggage carousels should be installed. The design already has started.

And Lambert visitors can expect easier-to-follow signs to guide them from Interstate 70 to parking lots, terminals and other key locations.

The renovations are part of a larger airport makeover dubbed the Airport Experience. Its price was put at $105 million when it was announced in February 2007. But the airline industry is struggling with a weak economy and sky-high oil prices. In June, American Airlines said it will cut 30 flights out of St. Louis by this fall.

The airport receives significant income from airline fees, and lost flights can reduce revenue. But Hrabko said Lambert’s financial consultants have analyzed the situation and found that the airport could proceed with the entire project so long as nothing changes.

“A careful analysis has determined that we have the ability to begin these improvements for the main terminal and remain fiscally responsible,” Hrabko told a crowd that gathered for the kickoff of renovations on the main terminal ticketing level. “We will analyze each future project and make assessments at every step of the program.”

Hrabko said design and engineering work will begin on future projects in the remaining section of the ticketing area, the lower level of the main terminal and the concourses. Lambert officials should know by next year how they will proceed to the next phase.

From American’s perspective, two of the three projects the airport featured at its kickoff event — restoration of the main terminal dome and the new baggage carousels — were considered top priorities, said Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, the airline’s managing director at Lambert.

So too are upgrades to airport restaurants, she said.

Under a separate program, a joint venture headed by HMSHost is expected to invest $16 million to bring in new restaurants, including the Brioche Doree Cafe and Missouri Vineyards, which will open early next year on the ticketing level. Other restaurants include Mosaic’s Tapas Fusion, Fitz’s Root Beer and Baja Fresh.

Work is expected to begin within a few weeks on the ceiling domes. They will be coated with a material made from pulp paper, Hrabko said, and will give the ceiling a smoother surface that is lighter and easier to maintain than the existing one.

Bonds will be sold to pay for the work. Lambert’s tenant airlines will shoulder about 15 percent of the cost to pay off those bonds. The remainder will be funded through terminal rents, non-aviation revenues — such as parking lot receipts — and the $4.50 passenger-facility charge each traveler pays on flights leaving St. Louis.

“We’re on target,” St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green said. “We assure you that we know we are in some challenging times, but that is still all the more why Lambert International airport must continue with its expansion.”

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