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EDITORIAL: Airport overhaul seems like overkill

Think twice before altering Civic Plaza

February 25, 2017

Parts of a plan in the works to overhaul the almost-10-year-old terminal at Indianapolis International Airport seem like an attempt to fix what isn’t broken.

The cost of the project, which could start as early as the second quarter of next year, isn’t known yet. But parts of the plan would seem dubious even if the cost were zero.

At the top of the list of questionable changes is the idea of subdividing Civic Plaza, which connects ticketing and gate areas, into smaller zones. Those zones might include seating areas, a City-Market-style area for vendors and a contoured area covered with artificial grass that could be used for performances and events.

Perhaps the reality would be more pleasing than the description, but the ideas sound like they would introduce clutter to the main common area of an airport that wins accolades year after year. Readers of Conde Naste Traveler last year selected Indianapolis International as the best airport in the United States. A J.D. Power poll told the same tale. And Airports Council International regularly honors Indianapolis International among the best airports.

It’s good that airport officials don’t want to rest on their laurels, but improvements should address areas that need improving.

Moving more airport retailers to post-security gate areas is a part of the plan that falls into that category.

Right now, 40 percent of the airport’s restaurants and shops are in Civic Plaza and 60 percent are near the departure gates. The industry standard is to have 80 percent of the retail in post-security areas, primarily because passengers prefer to wait until they’ve gone through security before making purchases.

Sales figures show Civic Plaza retailers taking in less per square foot than their gate-area counterparts. Of the airport’s 53 vendors, 36 have contracts that expire next year, so it makes sense to begin the process of moving them where they are most convenient to passengers and can register stronger sales. Removing some of the moving walkways to make room for that change, as has been proposed, seems reasonable in an airport as small as Indianapolis International.

Other necessary upgrades are in the works as well. In January, the Airport Authority approved spending up to $10 million on upgrades to its open-air parking garage, which has components that have been compromised by their exposure to the weather.

Such investments are no-brainers to protect a facility that is the city’s first opportunity to make a good first impression. We’re glad officials are open to necessary fixes, whatever the cost, and we’re encouraged that some board members seemed skeptical upon hearing about the Civic Plaza overhaul now on the drawing board.

Indianapolis International Airport is a gem. For now, the goal should be to keep it polished and little else.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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