This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 15, 2008 - "Conservative" renovations are underway at Lambert-St. Louis International Airports. The nearly $17 million in upgrades is a step down from a concept plan that had a price tag of about $105 million. Officials hope the improvements will still make the airport more customer friendly while staying on top of turbulent economic times.
The plans were announced July 15 in the airport's 1965 ticketing hall in the main terminal. Its ceilings are the first project Lambert is tackling.
Before the month ends, passengers will see scaffolding erected in the main terminal as its domed ceilings are restored. They were designed in the 1960s by Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki. A white coating made of recycled paper pulp will be applied. Skylights will be removed and replaced with LED lighting that will change colors. The dome's six-month restoration will cost $2.17 million.
The airport's six baggage carousels have been a source of complaints for years, Hrabko said. They will be replaced and the system refurbished to the tune of $5.5 million. That upgrade should be complete by the middle of 2009.
New signs at Lambert's entrances and along roadways will cost about $1 million.
The original plan called for a glass canopy, improved curbside facilities and other upgrades. The plan was conceived before high fuel prices hit the airline industry, causing major carriers such as American to scale back flights and to increase charges. Lambert, which has already suffered from industry ups and downs, is only 30 percent occupied.
Funding the renovations falls largely to Lambert. The airport will shoulder about 85 percent of the costs, with the money coming mostly from concessions and other revenue as well as bond sales. The airlines will pay about 15 percent, according to Airport Director Richard Hrabko.
"We're trying to keep the airline costs as low as possible," Hrabko said, citing St. Louis' need to stay competitive as fewer flights go out nationally.
The airport will review every stage of its projects and make adjustments if costs run too high or economics continue to sour for air travel, Hrabko said.
"We'll get into the reality," Hrabko said. "This is the first step. At this point, if things stay the same, we'd be in adequate shape to complete the whole project."
The airport's food vendors are also getting into the upgrade act. HMSMOST, the company that provides concessions at Lambert, and its local partner, D&D Concessions LLC, announced $16 million in separate improvements to the airport's food and beverage areas. New restaurants with local roots such as a Pasta House, Fitz's Root Beer and Missouri Wine Bar are planed. Openings for some of the newcomers such as Pasta House will begin this fall.
Meanwhile, Lambert will continue with the design and engineering process that will determine what will become of the rest of the main terminal.
"Air service is vitally important to the economic vitality of the region," Airport Commissioner Kathleen Osborn said. "Let's get on with modernizing the airport."
Amelia Flood is a free-lance journalist.