Just in time for holiday travel, the Long Beach Airport is slated to unveil its new passenger concourse during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 5 to be attended by government officials, community members and business representatives. The concourse, which has been under construction for two years, will be fitted with a string of new concessions, a boarding lounge, an atrium and a garden walkway.
The ceremony takes place just a few days before the concourse will be briefly opened to the public on Dec. 9, according to Airport Director Mario Rodriguez, who said at which time area residents will be allowed access to the structure. However, starting Dec. 12, the concourse will be officially “activated” and only available to ticketed passengers, as Transportation Security Administration check-point equipment will be officially moved from existing trailers, he said. “At that point, it becomes a secured area, and passengers will be shifted from the trailers to the new concourse,” Rodriguez said.
Although the long-awaited concourse is to be completed nearly five months ahead of schedule, the project, which officially broke ground in December 2010 and generated as many as 300 construction jobs, didn’t come without a few challenges along the way.
Temecula-based Edge Development Inc., the original prime contractor, declared default and pulled out of the project earlier this year, as the company faced financial hardships and eventually went bankrupt. In August, however, the City entered into a “takeover agreement” with Safeco Insurance Company of America and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company as part of a surety bond that protected the completion of the construction contract. The remaining work is being conducted by San Diego-based Soltek Pacific Construction, and parts are being managed by the Airport’s own staff.
Pulling together such a critical project took a widespread effort on the part of Airport staff, Rodriguez said. “In most other places, that sort of problem would ground a project to a complete halt,” he said. “It would have ended at that point and we would have still been in court, but we basically kept pushing and kept moving everything forward because our staff pushed it forward … we’ve had people working out there like crazy.”
Rodriguez added that, by the time the ribbon is cut, the concrete may “still be wet,” but it is important to get it done early. “It’s not financially prudent or intelligent to wait around for a concourse, because this generates about $300,000 a month in revenue,” he said. “So, the faster we open it, the faster the revenue comes in and the better everyone else is. At the end, we’ll open the concourse and there will be little, tiny items we’ll fix as we go along.”
Though the Airport has budgeted the concourse at a cost of about $45 million, Airport staff said it’s still unclear whether the project will be completed under budget. Anticipated as an “innovative, intimate and world-class” facility, the new concourse is slated to provide a “modern, comfortable and inviting” atmosphere to evoke a relaxed, resort-like atmosphere, similar to a luxury hotel, according to Airport staff.
Built to accommodate the slot-regulated airport’s more than 3 million annual commercial-airline passengers, the concourse, composed of 35,000 square feet of new construction, will include a state-of-the-art consolidated screening checkpoint, solar panels on the roof, north and south holdrooms with improved seating, natural lighting, new bathrooms, Internet bars and Wi-Fi capabilities.
“The definition of ‘world-class’ to us is that it shouldn’t look like an airport,” Rodriguez said. “Airports are places that are uncomfortable and usually very high-priced, and there’s a lot of stress involved in going to an airport. So, we redefined what an airport should look like.”
The newly enhanced concessions, which include local retail outlets and eateries, such as George’s Greek Café, McKenna’s On the Bay and Sweet Jill’s, will be offering fare at regular “street prices,” unlike other airports where concessions raise prices to profit from a captive audience, he said. “Good customer service is providing [customers] with street pricing, not charging them more because they’re a captive audience,” Rodriguez said. “We should treat our customers with respect and the way we want to be treated ourselves … we don’t want to up-gauge the price just because we can.”
The Airport’s new concourse is one of the final legs of an ongoing, more than $140-million modernization plan that has also included building a new 1,989-space parking garage and a 247-space surface parking lot, enhancing runway ramps with electrical plug-ins for commercial aircraft and restoring the Airport’s World War II-era terminal built in 1941.
Down the road, the Airport plans to build a new rent-a-car facility and redo the front terminal to put in a new transportation center with buses, cabs, shuttles and valet parking. In addition, the City plans to install electric-vehicle charging stations inside of each parking structure. Some of the Airport’s nostalgic features, such as being able to walk out on the tarmac to board a plane as opposed to nearby LAX, will remain the same, he said. “There are a lot of plans,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to make this airport as convenient as possible.”