Pittsburgh International's Airmall changing course
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Pittsburgh International Airport's Airmall is getting an overhaul.
Airmall USA is preparing to embark on a $10 million project to reorganize the shops in the center of the airport's boarding terminal to take into account shifting traffic flows since the loss of the US Airways hub in 2004.
Under the new configuration, retailers such as Nine West, Sunglass Hut and the Body Shop, now located next to a bank of escalators near the middle of the core, will be moved to the sides where the flight information display systems are currently situated.
Those shops now prevent travelers who arrive from the tram from seeing other retailers located behind them between the A and B concourses. With the new arrangement, passengers will have a much better view of those stores as well as some new retailers to browse.
Jay Kruisselbrink, vice president of development for Airmall USA, said the changes are a response to the realities of life after the end of the hub and the dramatic drop in flights and connecting traffic.
Before US Airways eliminated the hub, 80 percent of all passengers used concourses A and B, reserved exclusively for the airline. Now only about half of all travelers use those two concourses. The rest use C and D.
The A and B concourses once were the Airmall's "Boardwalk" and "Park Place," with one third of all retail located between the two. But those retailers are seldom seen by travelers who use the other concourses. Airmall USA is hoping the new configuration will change that.
"We're just adapting the locations to better serve the customer," Mr. Kruisselbrink said.
As part of the remodeling, some shops will be relocated and seven new retailers will be added, bringing the total number of stores to 74. Mr. Kruisselbrink declined to release the names of the new tenants Friday. The overall square footage of Airmall shops and restaurants won't change in the reorganization.
"We're excited about this project," Mr. Kruisselbrink said. "We think it's great for the airport, the Airmall and the community. We believe it's going to increase customer service. It's going to improve revenues."
Airmall sales have plunged over the past decade with the cutbacks by US Airways, from $90 million in 2001 to $58.4 million last year. However, spending per boarding passenger has increased, from $9.02 in 2001 to $14.04 last year.
While the increase in spending per passenger corresponds in some ways to the overall drop in traffic, Mr. Kruisselbrink said other factors are at work as well.
One of the biggest, he said, is that most people using the airport now are starting or ending their flights here, not connecting to other cities. As a result, they have more time to browse the shops.
Mr. Kruisselbrink said officials are estimating the new configuration will increase sales by 10 to 20 percent, mainly in specialty retail.
Airmall USA hopes to start the remodeling in 2013 and have it completed by year's end. It will contribute $5 million toward the improvements. The shops and restaurants will collectively kick in another $5 million.
The renovations are planned as part of a contract extension with Airmall USA approved Friday by the Allegheny County Airport Authority board.
Under the terms, the length of the Airmall USA lease will be extended from the end of 2017, when it was set to expire, to the end of 2029. As part of the deal, the Airmall will continue to pay the current rate of 59 percent of gross revenue to the airport authority until the end of 2017. The rate then will jump to 77 percent through 2029.
Pittsburgh International and Airmall USA, formerly BAA Pittsburgh, pioneered the Airmall concept with the opening of the midfield terminal in 1992. The idea was to fill the terminal with well-known retailers and restaurants and to require them to charge the same prices they did elsewhere in an effort to do away with the kind of price gouging that typified airports in those days.
Despite the loss of hundreds of flights over the past decade and the subsequent drop in sales, Mr. Kruisselbrink said Airmall USA is still bullish on Pittsburgh International. He said the airport's concessions program is still the standard by which others are judged.
"We've been the top program for the first 20 years. We want to be the top program for the next 20 years," he said.
First Published September 15, 2012 12:01 am