Wayne Risher , USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
Memphis International Airport proposes to spend $214 million over five years on a transformative project that will build all-new passenger facilities in the airport’s oldest concourse.
Airport officials on Thursday unveiled a redesign of a three-year-old preliminary concept for B Concourse modernization and said the pricetag is up about $100 million from what was previously estimated.
Although no local tax dollars would be used, the airport is seeking Federal Aviation Administration approval of a passenger facility charge (PFC) of $4.50 per departing passenger. It would be added to fares during construction.
Airport president Scott Brockman said the new number is “all-in,” including non-construction costs and improvements that will help minimize impact on passengers when the B Concourse is shut down for reconstruction in 2018.
The modernization, which should begin in early 2018, will focus on expanding a majority of the B Concourse’s gates. It will literally raise the roof and blow out the exterior walls on the reconstructed sections, increasing ceiling height to 14 to 19 feet from nine feet and widening the concourse by about 30 to 40 feet.
“It’s big, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us thinking big,” said Airport Authority board chairman Pace Cooper. “We have to think grand, because this is the front door of our community and a chance for us to put our best foot forward as a community.”
Board member Jack Sammons added, “This will be a legacy project for the next half century.” Sammons said narrow aisles and low ceilings in the current concourse are byproducts of penny-pinching by city officials who oversaw construction of the airport’s first concourse in the 1960s.
More than half the funding would come from debt, with the rest filled in by federal and state grants, the operating budget, PFCs and terminal rates and charges paid by passenger airlines, concessionaires and others. Brockman said airlines had already signed off on the project.
Memphis is one of four airports out of the country’s 100 largest that didn’t have a PFC as of March 31. Airport officials say it would reduce project debt by raising about $24 million during construction. It would go away after the project is completed.
The redesign was unveiled after the board approved about $5 million in jet bridge, air conditioning and passenger seating area expansion contracts to clear the way for Delta Air Lines gates to be relocated to A Concourse from B by the end of the year.
After the project is completed in 2021, the airport plans to mothball most remnants of A and C concourses and concentrate passenger activity in B Concourse. Commuter airlines will operate from a new ground boarding area on the A Concourse.
The update will yield larger gate areas, wider corridors and more natural light, seating, moving walkways and amenities such as charging stations. It will include a children’s play area and revamped lounges for military personnel, nursing mothers and hospital patients and their families.
“These changes are all part of a project that will result in a modern, convenient, state-of-the-art airport for our passengers, airlines, concessionaires and other partners,” Cooper said.
The original version of B Concourse modernization would have spent $114 million on construction of less expansive improvements to the entire concourse. The concourse extends south from the terminal building and consists of a central stem, rotunda and Y-shaped southern extensions.
The revised plan would spend $131 million on B Concourse construction. It focuses on the stem, rotunda and southeastern end of the Y for a total of 23 gates capable of serving about 3 million enplanements a year, about 50 percent more than current volume.
The plan reserves the southwest extension of the Y for future expansion of as many as 15 gates. An international gate will remain in operation there. While B Concourse is closed for construction, passengers on international flights, such as a new flight to Toronto, will be bused between a customs clearance area and baggage claim/ground transportation, Brockman said.