September 20, 2008

LAX Retools Bradley Terminal Plans

By Art Marroquin

It's back to the drawing board for Los Angeles International Airport.

Rather than renovate the concourse areas of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, airport officials now want to build two new concourses on either side of the structure. The old concourse area would be demolished, but the terminal's ticketing lobby would remain in place, while the two security-screening areas would be consolidated into a single checkpoint.

"Building a new concourse gives you a better product and makes it easier to complete while we're still operating," said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX.

Airport officials have spent the past year trying to come up with ways to accommodate the Airbus A380 by the start of 2012, a self- imposed deadline that was promised to the airlines.

Initially, plans called for building the new Midfield Satellite Concourse next door to the Bradley terminal, but that project would have been too expensive and time-consuming.

Airport officials then shifted their attention to the quick-fix solution of simply adding larger airline gates on the back of the Bradley terminal while making major renovations to the building, which was completed in 1984.

However, seismic code upgrades to the old concourse proved to be too expensive. Concerns were also raised about overburdening existing electrical and plumbing fixtures by connecting them to new utilities needed for the new gates. Additionally, working around travelers in a construction zone had posed a challenge.

The airport stands to save $70 million to $110million in construction costs by building a pair of new concourses, rather than renovating the old space. Airport officials still hope to have two new airline gates opened on the back of the Bradley terminal by 2012, with the entire project completed by the following year.

"It was a no-brainer for me, so I support this concept," said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX.

"As we got our hands around the project, we found that it would cost more to renovate Bradley and eventually create an operational nightmare," he said. "If we're going to do this job, then we should do it right."

The new concourses will also offer passengers more space to eat and shop. In turn, officials hope the move encourages passengers to spend more money, according to Frank Clark, executive director of LAXTEC, the agency that represents the international airlines housed in the Bradley terminal.

"You're going to end up with a new structure with new utilities and more space for traveler shopping," Clark said. "Given the history of LAX over the last decade, with lots of money already spent in planning, this change in plans shows that the airport is not locked into a single idea that might not be good. I give the airport credit for taking a step back and looking at these issues."

For now, LAX offers significantly less space for stores and restaurants than most major airports across the country. The airport offers only 5.1 square feet of concession space for every 1,000 people passing through the airport with an average spending of $7.85 per passenger.

Some concessionaires operating shops and eateries inside the Bradley terminal said they trusted airport officials to fix up the concourse areas, noting that the improvements might boost sagging sales.

"Hudson is committed to continue to provide the first modern and exciting retail shops at LAX, helping the airport to realize its potential as a world-class shopping experience," said Laura Samuels, a spokeswoman for the Hudson Group, which operates 13 stores in the Bradley terminal.

The airport is expected to modify its concession contracts later this year. Food and retail agreements will be awarded in 2011 for the Bradley terminal, just one year before the new concourses are scheduled to open. In the meantime, current tenants will have the option to extend their leases in November.

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