Picking up and dropping off a rental car is often the first and last thing a visitor does when visiting a city. That's why customer service was top-of-mind when Nashville International Airport (BNA) developed its new 1.2-million-square-foot rental car facility. At a cost of $70 million, the three-level concrete structure is the largest construction project in the airport's history.
Project: Onsite Rental Car Facility
Location: Nashville (TN) Int'l Airport
Cost: $70 million
Size: 1.2 million sq. ft.
Capacity: 2,400 stalls
Construction: Feb. 2010 - Aug. 2011
Opened: Nov. 2011
Design: Demattei Wong Architecture
Local Architecture Partner: Moody Nolan
General Contractor/Construction Manager at Risk: Austin Commercial, DF Chase
Benefits: Increased customer service, elimination of shuttle buses
Prior to opening the new 2,400-stall facility last November, BNA had "rental car areas," recalls Raul Regalado, president and CEO of Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority. Various elements were spread throughout four different areas at the terminal - one consuming about 600 covered spaces in the short-term garage intended for general public parking.
In contrast, BNA's new facility consolidates all rental car activities into one center located directly across from the terminal building. Relocating the area where crews wash and refuel rental cars is expected to save more than 800,000 annual shuttle miles. The new facility also provides more than twice as many rental car spaces than its predecessor.
Stuck in Neutral
The project originally began in 2004 as an off-airport facility. But unanticipated costs stemming from the intended site's geological conditions put the project on hold.
"We moved its location probably half a dozen times before we settled in on the existing site and began the design work," recalls Regalado. "It also changed in its operational configuration as well."
In 2007, Demattei Wong Architecture was awarded the design contract for the project. But just as the construction documents were completed, the bond market dipped and the project was again put on hold. Eleven months later, the bond market returned and the project was finally able to move forward with construction, which began in February 2010 and took 18 months to complete.
"It was a lengthy process," comments Wesley Wong, principal at Demattei Wong.
One of the primary design goals was to create a facility that supports a seamless, customer-friendly rental process.
"First and foremost, we wanted to continue the airport's mission of providing the highest level of customer service," relates Wong. "Reflecting back, having the remote site with the weathered rock was actually a blessing in disguise. From the rental car customer perspective, the highest level of customer service is going straight from the terminal to the rental car facility without having to get on a bus."
The second goal, Wong says, was making the facility as functionally and operationally efficient as possible. "That really is important for the rental car agencies," he explains. "Their business depends on renting cars as fast as possible, so providing a facility that allows them to (transform) a return car into a ready car in an efficient manner is critical."
Environmental sustainability was also a factor for the new rental car center. With an open-air design, there is no need to air condition or heat the facility, notes Regalado. This lowers energy consumption and operating costs. "We're going to have a green screen wall covered in vegetation on one full length of the facility to soften it and cool it," he adds.
Other environmental features include a system that captures and recycles water from the car wash, and a lighting management system that adjusts the levels of electric lights based on available ambient lighting.
Although the building includes several "green" features, BNA chose save the expense of registering with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status. "We've included the components in the spirit of the standards without going for the actual certification," Regalado comments.
Wong considers the facility's environmentally conscious elements "good, practical and responsible architecture."
At 1.2 million square feet, the rental car center is actually larger than BNA's 900,000-square-foot passenger terminal - a relationship that caused initial concern.
"We took great pains during design to make sure it blended in and didn't overpower the terminal building," recalls Regalado. "It's very compatible and we've gotten good feedback from our community, customers and tenants in respect to the facility."
Regalado reports that overall response to the new facility has been positive - especially so from the car rental companies. "It's obviously more efficient for them," he says.
There have, however, been some minor squawks. For instance, some airport visitors complained when operation of the escalators and moving sidewalks in the open-air facility was disrupted by the cool winter weather.
lthough the rental car facility is located directly across the street from the terminal building, the approximately 100-yard walk was an issue for some. BNA responded with temporary golf carts to help physically challenged customers and earlier this year was in the process of upgrading the carts and expanding its fleet. The longer-term solution - installation of moving sidewalks connecting the terminal and rental car facility - will be part of BNA's five-year capital plan.
We're trying to be responsive to the needs of our customers," comments Regalado.
Bea Thompson, project manager for the local architecture company that participated in the project, was struck by how many audiences the new facility had to satisfy - nine different car rental agencies, customers renting and returning vehicles, airport personnel, vehicle turnaround crews and even airport visitors not using the facility.
"It may sound easy, but a rental car facility is actually a very complex system," Thompson notes. "It was good to work with professionals that understood the technicalities of the project."