Lambert Airport to get a face-lift

| Staff Reporter

Rendering of the new Concourse C checkpoint at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. (Courtesy of Lambert Airport)

Students traveling to and from St. Louis next academic year will notice some changes in the appearance of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. In fall 2010, Terminal 1 will begin a two-year, $50 million interior renovation project, the largest in the airport’s history.

The renovation is the second phase of the $70 million Airport Experience Program. The $20 million first phase, which included dome resurfacing, a new baggage system and new signage, was completed in 2009.

The second phase, called “the heart and soul” of the project, will completely transform A and C concourses with new ticket counters, new restrooms, an upgraded C concourse checkpoint with improved screening equipment, a higher and brighter ceiling with programmable LED lighted caps, an added atrium that will connect ticketing and lower levels, a “St. Louis Stage” performance area, and new interactive and static art displays.

“The Airport Experience Program was born in 2005; it was a vision by community and business leaders, after the airport had suffered a loss of flights in 2004, [to make] a more vibrant airport and regain interest,” airport spokesman Jeff Lea said.

Terminal 1 was built in 1956 and was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki.

“Lambert was one of the first city-owned airports in the country in 1928, [and the terminal] was replicated by a couple other airports in New York and Paris,” Lea said. The terminal hasn’t undergone any major renovations since.

The renovation will not include Terminal 2 or concourses B or D in Terminal 1.

“We are relocating a few airlines that were in B and D into the C concourse; [A and C] are the two biggest concourses [that] have the most activity,” Lea said. “[We’re] trying to consolidate the airlines.”

Concourses B and D will terminate any airline operations by late spring, Lea added. Whether the two concourses will permanently close has not been decided.

The $50 million will be coming from airport bonds, “[which includes] passenger and airport fees,” Lea said. “It’s not supported by any city general revenue.”

But according to Glenn MacDonald, professor in the Olin Business School, bonds are just government borrowing, and “government borrowing is just future taxation.”

More than half of the $50 million will be used toward labor, which will support approximately 150 skilled daily construction workers.

According to the airport’s news release on the renovation, the project “demonstrates Lambert’s commitment…[to] enhance our competitive position given that the Airport is our region’s most important economic asset.”

But whether or not the project will actually enhance St. Louis’ economic position is questionable.

“The gross state product of Missouri is $250 billion a year…The renovation is about $25 million a year,” MacDonald said. “It is a drip in the ocean.”

MacDonald also commented that businesses don’t make their decision to come to St. Louis based on how nice its airport is, but rather on the business climate here.

“It’s just like paving Highway 40,” MacDonald said. “It’s a maintenance that needs to be done.”

Airport renovations like this “happen all over the country, all times of the year. At this moment, there’s probably a couple dozen going around in the country,” said Tony Molinaro, the central region spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Apart from the second phase renovation of the Airport Experience Program, the airport has plans to add and renovate restaurants and introduce a Dunkin Donuts in the A concourse.