Friday, May 4, 2007
Flying high: Oakland airport expansion takes off
By David Goll
East Bay (CA) Business Times
After several years of blocked-off construction sites, rerouted traffic and periodic inconvenience, the $300 million expansion project at Oakland International Airport is beginning to take off.
The expansion and redesign of the airport's terminals, roads and curbside areas - including updated and easier-to-read interior and exterior signs - has brought one of the nation's fastest-growing air hubs into the 21st century.
The airport handled more than 14.4 million passengers in 2006, up 3 million from five years earlier and nearly 5 million from a decade earlier. The East Bay's large, burgeoning business community comprises about half of Oakland International's passengers.
Expansion will help the hub handle an estimated 18 million passengers expected to use the airport by 2010, according to projections by the Federal Aviation Administration, said Rosemary Barnes, an airport spokeswoman.
People approaching the airport from 98th Avenue or Hegenberger Road see a widened, reconfigured road network that offers a more efficient and dramatic entry. The road and curbside improvement project is expected to be complete by summer 2008, Barnes said. By then, four curbsides outside Terminals 1 and 2 will accommodate passenger pickups and dropoffs, public transportation, valet parking and airport and hotel shuttle buses.
Most of the Terminal 2 expansion is complete, including a spacious 27,000-square-foot baggage claim area that has three huge carousels and massive video screens that will eventually feature the productions of local filmmakers.
The 108,000-square-foot addition - 54,000 square feet of it for passengers - to the terminal building adds seven gates for the airport's dominant carrier, Southwest Airlines, which accounts for more than 60 percent of Oakland's more than 200 daily flights and 9 million of its annual passengers.
Busy Terminal 2 looks like a cross between an airport and upscale shopping mall, with restaurants and shopping kiosks woven around and between airline gates. In dramatic contrast to the spacious but dark older terminal gate areas, the wing's ample picture windows let in generous amounts of natural light that complements pastel paint shades on the walls and bright terrazzo-tile floors.
Where Oakland passengers once had limited dining choices, they now can choose from an array of local, regional and national possibilities, including Starbucks Coffee, California Pizza Kitchen, Max's Eatz and Fresh Bakery, Fenton's Creamery, Auntie Anne's Pretzels and a sitdown Andale Mexican Restaurant that also features a full-service bar, food to go and a small Peet's Coffee stand. A Gordon Biersch restaurant is scheduled to open next week.
Amidst the busy eateries, Bayfront News has an expansive newsstand and bookstore. A few steps away, the Oakland Marketplace area contains tall, handsome kiosks selling everything from expensive sunglasses to a variety of Scharffen Berger chocolate products, A.G. Ferrari's imported Italian specialty food items, and toys, apparel and other souvenir items from the Oakland Zoo and Children's Fairyland.
The airport's dramatic expansion of food and retail offerings precede a change in management of these operations a year from now, when HMSHost Corp., formerly Host International Inc., of Bethesda, Md., takes over all operations from current concessioner Delaware North Cos. Last year, HMSHost was awarded a $120 million contract by the Port of Oakland, which oversees the airport, to provide concessions on an interim basis for two years, and on a full-time basis for 10 years beginning June 1, 2008.
The company predicts that its businesses will generate 350 jobs, $900 million in gross receipts and $117 million in rent to the airport between 2006 and 2018.
In a wide corridor connecting the old and new sections of Terminal 2, a 200-foot-long, two-lane moving sidewalk shares space with the airport's striking and most noteworthy example of its expanded public art program -"Going Away, Going Home," a creation of Oakland artist Hung Liu. The piece, which Liu created in Germany, contains 64 individually painted panes of glass that feature red-crowned cranes against a background of satellite images of the Bay Area, Northern California and the Asian-Pacific region.
Barnes said 1 percent of expansion funds were set aside for public art projects.
The long-awaited expansion and improvements at the airport are crucial to the region's business development, said Bruce Kern, executive director of the East Bay Economic Development Alliance in Oakland.
"For any business looking to relocate in any major metropolitan area, the efficiency of the airport is extremely important," he said, adding that his business advocacy organization regularly gets inquiries about Oakland International from companies interested in the East Bay.
"It's great to see investments being made in the airport, making it more efficient for carriers, for passengers and air cargo activity," he said. "They are now moving toward fully maximizing the airport."
Kern said, for example, that one of the East Bay's most important economic drivers, the biosciences industry, depends on the air cargo operation for safe delivery of "high-end products."
Features that now appear in new and redesigned areas of the airport reflect changes that have occurred in the industry since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast, according to Kern, putting the facility itself in a better position to grow.
"In the airport's new areas, the services and conveniences are located (behind security checkpoints), which is attentive to the needs of passengers who are spending more time these days waiting at airports," Kern said.
Another consumer advantage, according to Barnes, is the addition of WiFi, also known as wireless fidelity, capability throughout the airport.
When tarmac improvements and the remodeling of older portions of Terminal 2 are complete, Barnes said the airport will have its full complement of 29 gates. At that point, remodeling on Terminal 1 - which houses the airport's 11 other carriers as well as two gates for Southwest - may be ready to begin. Barnes said that work may be finished in another two or three years.