Retailers and restaurateurs have flooded Indianapolis International Airport with letters-of-interest for space in the midfield
terminal, which is scheduled to open in late 2008. The demand is "more than five times" the number of concession
spaces available, airport managers say.
That suggests at least 250 firms expressed formal intent to hang a shingle at the 50 retail and food-and-beverage spaces
in the nation's first big terminal designed and built since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
In nearly 60,000 square feet of "prime" retail space, concessionaires will compete for a slice of a big pie: passengers
spent $32 million at the existing terminal in 2006 alone. That translates to $7.71 per boarding passenger, based on last year's
4.05 million enplanements here. Spending per boarding passenger also has been growing: up 7 percent last year. Now ensconce
those concessionaires in a larger, $1.1 billion terminal that betrays its utilitarian purpose by doubling as virtual art gallery
and architectural showcase.
Millions of dollars worth of local and international art will grace the interior of the curvaceous, glass-and-steel structure,
which resembles a primordial sea creature.
Airport officials are counting on looks alone to draw untold thousands of curious visitors from across the region, further
boosting retail sales.
A look at the latest configuration for terminal concessions shows another appeal for concessionaires.
Unlike the current terminal's four concourses, two of which can be accessed from numerous entry points, the midfield
terminal has just two concourses. And getting to them requires virtually all 9 million annual passengers to move first through
a circular "civic plaza," itself home to 25,000 square feet of concession space.
"You have a lot of concentrated passenger flow to concessions," said Jeremiah Wise, director of business development
for the Indianapolis Airport Authority.
"It's location, location, concentration," said Mary Ann Falatic, the airport's retail director.
Airport officials won't identify any of the firms that filed letters of interest. They say they're in the midst of
negotiations with prospects. Some deals are likely to be inked in the first quarter, Wise said.
Nor will they even hint at whether any of the concepts proposed are much of a departure from the kind of retail and food
and beverage shops in the current terminal.
Indianapolis International may not be among the nation's top 20 airports, but it has been recognized for retail innovation
in the past. For example, in 2003, Airports Council International handed Indianapolis its "most innovative concession"
award for tenant Passport Travel Spa, which offers hair and nail care and massages.
One thing that is being targeted, Falatic said, is "a nice mix of local, regional and national brands."
Designed for revenue
What is clear is that the new terminal is designed to better squeeze money from passengers' pockets in a post-9/11 world.
In the existing terminal, about 65 percent of concessions are "pre-security" and the balance on the "post-security"
But the midfield terminal puts most of the concessions–55 percent of them–in the post-security gate areas.
In an era of tighter security, "typically, people wait until they get behind security to get food and go shopping,"
said Pauline Armbrust, CEO of Armbrust Aviation Group. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., company publishes Airport Revenue
"It's been a trend for a while, even before 9/11 and even more so now."
Some airports have taken the new paradigm to the extreme. Food, beverage and retail sales at Tulsa International Airport
rose 27 percent after a terminal remodeling that moved 90 percent of concession space post-security, from 45 percent previously,
according to The Tulsa World.
That mix is not ideal for Indianapolis, where the civic plaza and its 200-foot-in-diameter translucent dome will corral travelers
before heading for their gates.
Besides concessions on the main floor of the plaza, an upper level circles overhead that will house restaurants. One clever
design to draw them up is a semi-circular walkway on the east end of the upper floor. It allows visitors to view the city's
skyline as well as aircraft on the ground and coming in for a landing.
"When you have the opportunity to start from the ground up, you have the opportunity to really think through the process,"
said Falatic, who has strived in the last several years to make do with an aging terminal.
The last major improvement to the current terminal was a revamping of its food court about four years ago.
More space, same tenant count
While the new terminal is a dramatic improvement over the old and much larger–1.2 million square feet vs. 673,000–it still
will have only about 50 concessionaires.
The difference is that the midfield terminal should have a more diverse mix of concessions, Wise said. The reason is that
it has half the number of concourses, so there's less need for several of the same kind of concessions. With two concourses,
there could be two news/gift stores instead of four.
"Today, we have a lot more duplication," he added.
Just how much more the airport could generate in concession income is unclear, however. The income is crucial in helping
the airport control rents and fees charged to airlines.
Wise said much will be determined by negotiations with concessionaires. In its solicitation package, the airport authority
said typical rents are 15 percent to 25 percent of a concession's sales.
The authority's "minimum guidelines" are 8 percent for food and beverage, 12 percent for those selling alcohol,
15 percent for periodicals, and 8 percent for "other" retail.
The airport also collects a base rent for the space. The authority's minimum guidelines range from $35,000 annually for
basic retail and food vendors to $150,00 for full-service restaurants with bars.
Last year, the airport collected $5.1 million in terminal rent alone.
"The authority anticipates actual [rents and percentage of gross sales] to exceed these levels," states the package
Airport retailers operate in an environment much different from that of most retailers.
The airport is open 365 days a year and the average retailing day is at least 16 hours–sometimes 24 hours. That's an
extra challenge for staffing, on top of a requirement that employees receive extra training about the airport and act as "ambassadors
of the airport," as the authority puts it.
Passengers are in a hurry, making serving them "without sacrificing the quality of the product" difficult. Flight
delays and cancellations can bring a crush of customers and require concessions to operate extended hours.
And that doesn't include the impact of further terrorist attacks that could again cripple the airline industry and, in
turn, airport revenue.
But what price is too much "for superior visibility in a key market" that is a major center for the hospitality
industry, "host to more convention attendees than St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh combined"? asks the airport
authority's invitation for proposals.
Not to mention that about two-thirds of the airport's passengers have household income greater than $60,000–about half
are above $80,000.
"At the New Indianapolis Airport, your customers may be coming and going but you are in a destination location."