As the New Orleans airport gets ready to move into an entirely new $1 billion airport terminal in May 2019, one big question remains: What happens to the old airport facility?
The New Orleans Aviation Board kicked off the public discussion about the future of the old terminal at its Thursday (Nov. 15) meeting, after listening to a presentation from a consultant hired to help with the process. It will be months, possibly a year or more, before any final decisions are made about what to do with the old facility.
The early takeaways? Large parts of the current airport terminal, including the long-dormant Concourse A and aging Concourse B, currently dedicated to Southwest Airlines, would be costly and complicated to rehab for a new use, said Hugh Murphy, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, the hired consultant. Concourses C and D are in better shape, but would pose similar obstacles, he added. Parts of the terminal could be folded into new plans, but demolition appears to be the likely fate for the concourses.
Murphy and airport officials also agreed the airport should retain ownership of all its properties and take its time before deciding what to do with any unused space. The redevelopment process could last 40 years, maybe longer, Roger Ogden, a local real estate developer and aviation board member, pointed out.
“We feel very strongly that there should be a long-term approach to this,” Ogden said.
The current airport facility was originally built in 1959, replacing a large makeshift hangar that had served travelers up to that point. Prior to hosting the Super Bowl in 2013, the city spent $305 million to update the terminal, including adding gates, upgrading restrooms and interiors, and adding operational offices, including a $24 million emergency response center. However, the core of the facility continues to show its age.
Airport officials note key operations will continue to be housed at the old facility for the time being, including the emergency response center. The neighboring parking garage and rental car facility will also be staying put for the near future. As far as travelers are concerned, however, the new terminal being built on the north side of the airport’s property is a full replacement.
On Thursday, Murphy presented two concept drawings that showed how the old terminal could be overhauled into a new hangar space for commercial airlines, aviation maintenance and repair organizations, and fixed-base operators, which provide aviation services like fueling and aircraft storage. Both conceptual plans call for tearing down most of the existing terminal to make way for new hangars, though they include the option to preserve the iconic parabola lobby and Concourse D rotunda, completed in 2011.
Murphy noted there are only a handful of instances where airports in other cities have successfully redeveloped an old terminal building. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport is converting an empty 56-year-old terminal into a new 505-room hotel. The hotel deal was finalized after several failed attempts at redevelopment. The terminal had been empty since 2001.
Indianapolis demolished its old airport after opening a $1 billion terminal in 2008. An early plan to redevelop the razed site into a sports medical complex with a 20,000-seat stadium proved controversial. Indianapolis leaders finally announced in April they had inked a new deal with India’s Infosys to build a new tech hub there.
“There just isn’t any former terminal area that is actually being re-used today,” Murphy said.
As in Indianapolis, the old New Orleans airport terminal is a relatively small portion of the total area officials will be considering for its redevelopment potential. Jones Lang LaSalle has identified roughly 160 acres on the southwest side of the airport property that could be redeveloped, including areas that currently house air cargo, hangar and other aviation support services, as well as tenants like UPS and FedEx. The aviation board also owns dozens of off-site parcels around the airport.
Murphy said the area has potential for a wide range of uses, including space for industrial tenants as well as room for the airport to grow its hangar space. It’s possible parcels along Crofton Road could attract office or retail projects, though that would have to be a long-term play, he added.
“You don’t have this kind of property at other airports,” Murphy said. “You have a huge opportunity to compete with other places that don’t have that space.”
In the meantime, the first wave of redevelopment is likely to focus on a U-shaped patch of concrete apron on the north side of the airport, next to the new $1 billion terminal. Murphy said the space, which currently supports charter flight operators, would be ideal for housing ground service and cargo handling operations for airlines as well as overnight aircraft parking. He added there’s enough land there for a future airport expansion should officials one day choose to extend the new terminal’s Concourse A, he said.
Any actual demolition of the old airport terminal is probably months, if not years, down the road. Some aviation board members have already expressed concern about what could happen if the airport waits too long to tear it down.
Doug Thornton, a member of the aviation board and regional vice president of SMG, which manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, worried the airport will be paying to maintain an empty building that isn’t likely to be re-used.
“We’re probably better served by taking it down,” Thornton said.
Ogden, the real estate developer, urged a methodical approach. Any decisions made about what to with the land today will be locked in for decades to come, he noted.
“Once you pull a trigger and you develop a part of it, you’re going to be under a long term lease,” Ogden said.
Murphy and his firm said the aviation board can start marketing parts of the southwest side of the airport now, involving state and local economic development officials and third-parties like Entergy, which often assists in large-scale redevelopment projects. Thursday’s presentation recommended work on the old terminal wait until after the new terminal is up and running.
The New Orleans airport’s new terminal is currently set to open May 15, 2019.
Jennifer Larino covers residential real estate, retail and consumer news, travel and cruises, weather and other aspects of life in New Orleans for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Reach her at [email protected] or 504-239-1424. Follow her on Twitter @jenlarino.
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