Thursday, July 19, 2012

Long Beach Airport modernization takes a different approach

Long Beach Airport Director Mario Rodriguez has been in and out of airports more times than he'd like to say.

And no matter the airport, the experience is the same, he said.

"It's going through a concrete building, through a metal tube and another metal tube," said the Long Beach resident. "Everything feels the same."

So when Long Beach Airport embarked on its $140 million modernization project, which will include a new terminal and parking garage and upgrades to the aircraft ramps and facades, those involved sought something different.

Today, work is more than halfway done on the passenger concourse, which will feature two terminal buildings, and 4,200 square feet of outdoor seating with patios, fire pits, cabanas, suspended lights and space for outdoor performances.

The new concourse will also include more than 10,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space managed by The Paradies Shops, which is bringing in local vendors such as Polly's Coffee, Sweet Jill's Bakery, 4th Street Vine, George's Greek Cafe and second locations for Long Beach Clothing Co., which will be called 562 Experience, and McKenna's on the Bay, whose second restaurant will be named McKenna's on the Fly.

"Long Beach is such a special place, and this is going to reflect it,  with outdoor dining and fire pits," Rodriguez said. "It's a whole different concept and feel, more of a resort feel. And it should be. We took the idea from resorts."

Studio One Eleven principal Michael Bohn, whose Long Beach firm was hired by Paradies to design the retail and outside space, said his team sought to capture the modern, crisp waterfront metropolis that is Long Beach, bringing in nautical features and taking advantage of the city's openness and outdoor living.

He also spoke of the Long Beach Marche, a high-end food court that will be modeled less like a cafeteria and more like an open market where passengers can wander through self-serve islands of fresh food or head to food stations serving up Long Beach eats. 

"What we're trying to do is make it a memorable and enjoyable place you would want to come to even if you weren't waiting for an airport," Bohn said.

Long Beach follows a national trend among airports in the midst of major renovations to remain competitive.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently opened its $1.4 billion terminal for international passengers. In Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport is opening its $2.4 billion Terminal 3. Los Angeles International Airport also is undergoing improvements. 

Rodriguez said Long Beach's take on the concourse is different from other airports.

"We don't believe that people are comfortable in huge, Taj Mahal spaces," Rodriguez said. "Resorts have comfortable spaces. You're going to get something you haven't gotten from another airport."

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger, who toured the construction site Friday, said he was impressed by the progress. He added that the improvements will benefit the bottom lines of JetBlue and other operators.

"From JetBlue's perspective, at altitude is where customers spend most of their time, but the battle is also won on the ground," Barger said. "People are looking at the price of their tickets, they're looking at the price of their parking, but also how well their ground experience is. This bodes well for our operations." 

His reaction was a far cry from 2009, when Barger suggested to an airline industry blogger that JetBlue might pull out of Long Beach because of delays in the terminal improvement project.

The project had been delayed for years as the city fought legal battles over the scale of the expansion and concerns about the potential increase in aircraft noise. Airport officials have maintained that current noise restrictions and a cap on the number of allowed daily flights will remain.

The new concourse is expected to be open in 2013, though the project is ahead of schedule and could be open earlier, Rodriguez said.

"Hopefully, we'll deliver a nice Christmas present," he said.

(Karen Robes Meeks Staff Writer Press Telegram)


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