Jan 16, 2013 9:29 AM by AP
KENNER, La. (AP) - Beyond the new railings, light fixtures, colorful sculptures and fresh carpeting laid out for the Super Bowl masses, Louisiana politicians and business bigwigs alike are hoping the $305 million renovation to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport turns out to be more than just window dressing for a ball game.
The 2013 Super Bowl became the catalyst for major changes to the sleepy, mid-market airport, most of which should be done by the Feb. 3 game date. But once the throngs of fans shuffle back through security and onto departing flights, attracting future business will become the airport's main goal, said Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad said.
"We're trying to come up with a business model that's self-sustaining," Ahmad said.
His plan is simple enough: keep fares and operating costs down and keep revenue up, creating an environment that makes New Orleans more enticing for cargo and business travel. It's a plan easier to articulate than execute, but Ahmad has reached some success in his more than two years on the job.
New Orleans airport staff and patrons celebrate Dooky Chase's opening.
The airport staff expects to bring in $74.4 million in total revenue in 2013, up from $69.2 million in 2012. Operating expenses are also expected to rise, but at a slower pace, inching up from $38.2 million last year to $39.3 million in 2013, according to the city's 2013 budget projections.
It now costs airlines $8.41 per passenger to use New Orleans Airport. That's down from $10.20 per passenger in 2009, making the terminal more economically attractive. And passenger numbers have steadily climbed from 8.2 million in 2010 to 9 million in 2012, which airport officials expect to eclipse in 2013.
Much of the money to be made at the terminal will come from increased sales at several new stores and eight new restaurants that make up the heart of the airport's Super Bowl renovations. Zatarain's food company has opened its first-ever sit-down restaurant at the terminal. It is joined by two Copeland eateries, a WOW Wingery, Le Petit Bistro, Ye Olde College Inn, P.J.'s Coffee and a satellite of that iconic New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase.
While Chef Leah Chase was on hand to celebrate the airport Tuesday with a host of elected officials and business leaders, another member of her family also has a piece of airport business. Edgar Chase IV, her grandson, has a joint venture with Delaware North, the airport's main restaurant manager. He replaced convicted felon Stan "Pampy" Barre in May, taking 10 percent of the concessions contract as its new minority owner.
Crews are working at a frenetic pace to put the last pieces of the renovation together before the end of the month. A new $35.3 million rental car facility that sits just a stone's throw from the baggage claim exit is scheduled to be finished by Jan. 23. Concourse A, the last of four to be renovated, is expected to be finished before Super Bowl crowds begin to arrive.
Other capital improvement projects include:
-$28 million expansion of six gates at Concourse D
-$14 million airport rescue and firefighting facility
-$24 million emergency operations center
-$7.3 million in restroom renovations
-$3 million in new flight displays and baggage information screens.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com