Airport Authority OKs Concourse Overhaul

By Amos Maki

An ambitious effort to reconfigure Memphis International Airport for the future will get underway this fall, when demolition of portions of two concourses begins and a single concessions vendor takes control.

The board of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority approved a $5.8 million contract Thursday, Aug. 21, for the demolition of sections of concourses A and C at Memphis International, part of a broader $114 million effort to transform the airport.

The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority on Thursday, Aug. 21, approved a contract to demolish the parts of Concourses A and C highlighted in dark blue. The image on the right shows what Memphis International Airport will look like after the demolition.

(MSCAA)

“I would couch this as the beginning of the future,” said Airport Authority president and CEO Scott Brockman.

The board of commissioners awarded the contract to Chris Woods Construction Co. Inc. to demolish the southern ends of concourses A and C, a move that will bring the airport's gate count down to 60 from 85 while giving airlines more flexibility and access to the facility.

Chris Woods Construction, the lone bidder on the project, is expected to begin demolition of concourse A in October and the project would be complete next year.

The larger modernization plan reflects the sea change that has occurred at Memphis International over the last several years as it transitions from an airport dominated by a Delta Airlines hub leaning heavily on connecting flights to one focused on generating origin and destination traffic. Today, around 98 percent of the airport’s enplanements originate in Memphis, a huge shift from prior years.

The Delta de-hubbing has meant fewer flights at the airport – 83 a day now, down from a high of more than 300 a day at the peak of Delta’s hub operations – but it also opened the door for more competition, including from low-cost carriers, to enter the market, something travelers had been requesting for years but wasn’t possible because of the hub.

Delta’s most recent announced reductions means the airline's number of nonstop destinations will go from 20 to 17 in November, and the airport’s number of nonstop destinations will go from 26 to 24.

Before Delta began downsizing its Memphis hub several years ago, the airline offered nonstop flights to more than 50 destinations from Memphis.

But other airlines, such as Frontier, Southwest, American Airlines-US Airways and United, have either started new service or increased their offerings.

“Since November of last year we have added 18 flights outside of the Delta system,” Brockman said.

Airport Authority members say the upgrades will help provide for a more efficient and enjoyable travel experience and make Memphis International, which is competing with airports in nearby Nashville and Little Rock, Ark., a destination airport for area travelers, which they hope will attract more air service.

During the roughly six-year process around one-fourth of the airport’s overall gates will be torn down and the remaining facilities will be upgraded.

Many major airport functions, including gate operations, baggage claims, retail, food and beverage, will be consolidated into the airport’s “Main Street,” Concourse B, which will undergo a massive renovation.

The service reductions and fewer overall passengers utilizing the airport have had an impact on concession providers and the Airport Authority approved an agreement Thursday to allow one of the airport’s two concession providers, Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services Inc., to cease operations.

“Ultimately, what we’re interested in is providing great service for our customers and if both companies aren’t doing well we're not going to be able to accomplish that,” said Airport Authority chairman Jack Sammons.

Delaware North will cease operating a Back Yard Burger location in the food court and the Samuel Adams restaurant and bar in Concourse A. Edith Kelly-Green, a former FedEx executive and one of the largest multiple unit franchise owner’s for Lenny’s Sub Shop, including one at the airport, will take over those locations. Green’s companies, KC Wimpy’s Mem LLC and KC Eatery LLC, will begin operating restaurants with a little more local flare in those spaces Sep. 15. Green’s initial contract will be for one year and will continue on a month-to-month basis after that.

“As everyone knows we’ve had a reduction in our traffic and the closure of the Delta hub and that downsizing has lead us to closing a number of restaurants and reinventing the concession delivery process,” Brockman said.