The new 2.1 million-square-foot rental car center at San Diego International (SAN) consolidates the busy airport's car rental operations under one roof to maximize operational efficiency and enhance service for customers. Given the airport's active car rental market (more than 1 million transactions per year) and limited overall footprint (661 acres for all airport operations), the project was a tall order to fill.
Bob Bolton, director of airport design and construction, describes SAN's car rental business as "robust," with fully 14% of all arriving passengers renting vehicles. Due to its particularly healthy rental market, SAN ended up with operators scattered all around the airport-on both private and public property. The system was especially inefficient for customers who had to search nearby neighborhoods for their car companies, notes Bolton.
Project: Consolidated Rental Car Facility
Owner: San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
Cost: $316 million
Facility Size: 4 levels; 2 million sq. ft.
Parking Capacity: 5,400 rental vehicles
Tenants: 10 rental companies, representing 19 brands
Gas Pumps: 72
Site Size: 25.5 acres
Notable Features: 7 bio-swale ponds to collect rain & runoff water; space for 300-person restaurant on top level
Shuttles to/from Terminals: 16 buses, each with capacity for 25 passengers
Project Manager: Kimley-Horn
Design & Architect of Record: Demattei Wong Architects
Construction Manager at Risk: JV Austin Commercial; Sundt Construction
Curbside Cover: Birdair
Installation of Underground Water & Sewer Lines; Storm Drains: MarCon Engineering
Installation of Fueling Dispensers & Underground Storage Tanks: Western Pump
Supplied Construction Materials: Supply Patriot
Foundation: SCST Engineering
SAN's new $316 million facility improves customer service by consolidating its 10 rental car companies into one on-airport facility. In addition, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority assumed sole responsibility for transporting passengers to and from the new facility; so customers no longer wait for brand-specific shuttles. Since all rental car companies are now located in the same facility, fewer buses are needed (16 vs. 81) and traffic on the airport's main roadway has been significantly reduced.
SAN even built a new roadway system to reduce travel time to and from the new rental car center. Removing rental car traffic from the main airport road was a major goal for officials. "We wanted to get the rental car operations separate from the terminal operations," Bolton explains.
Beyond providing logistic improvements, the airport's new fleet runs on compressed natural gas, which reduces the operation's carbon footprint. "It makes things much more efficient," Bolton summarizes.
Consolidating rental operations into one building also provides efficiencies for the facility's tenants, Bolton comments. Instead of each company paying for its own building, tenants now share facility costs such as fueling stations and car wash equipment. From a service delivery perspective, the facility is the "most efficient way for the rental car companies to operate," says Wesley Wong Jr., principal at Demattei Wong Architects. The multi-level quick-turn area reduces the time and distance cars need to travel within the facility, which allows rental companies to return cars to service quickly and smoothly, he explains.
The new consolidated rental car center (conrac) is located north of the airport's sole runway, in an area previously used for aerospace manufacturing. After SAN's 2008 master plan identified several options for the area, the airport launched its Northside Development Program. In addition to the recently completed conrac, the initiative added a new 21,000-square-foot receiving and distribution center and Landmark Aviation's 19,000-square-foot terminal, which opened in 2014. The last piece of land included in the Northside Program is slated for cargo operations and will be developed via a public/private partnership. SAN is currently requesting qualification packages for the cargo area project.
Planning for the conrac began in 2005, when the airport authority's business group analyzed SAN's existing and future car rental operations. The study helped the authority develop a construction plan for the facility, including the optimum lifespan for a building (typically 20 to 30 years for a parking structure) and designs to accommodate more than 5,000 vehicles, Bolton explains.
With only 661 acres of land and a single runway, SAN officials are particularly mindful of land use. "We spend a lot of effort in our planning department really working on what the needs are, and what they'll be in the future to utilize every piece of land that we have," says Bolton. Because of limited acreage, there were not many options available, and officials wanted to keep the facility onsite.
An active fault line running through the airport property was another complicating factor in establishing the facility's footprint. "We had to move the building, per the building code, a certain distance from that fault," Bolton explains. "That helped us lay out exactly how this building was going to function and how large it would be."
SAN officials took extra care planning the exterior appearance because of the facility's location: The new conrac faces a nearby residential neighborhood and it's the first thing visitors see when entering the airport from Pacific Highway/I-5. "From the very beginning, one of the main priorities and goals from the airport was that they did not want the facility to look like a parking structure," Wong recalls.
The façade not only had to be constructible, durable and cost-effective, it also had to be aesthetically pleasing, adds Brad Kirsch, vice president of preconstruction for Sundt Construction. Although the overall building is cast-in-place concrete, the exterior façade is pre-cast concrete panels to provide a more striking look than most parking structures, he explains.
"Of all the conracs that we've designed and worked on, this one probably placed the most emphasis on aesthetics," Wong notes.
To visually relate the new structure to the rest of SAN's facilities, designers dipped from the same color palette and used similar materials, Wong says. The conrac's open-air lobby and awning are also elements carried over from the design of the terminals.
The swooping awning on the façade was designed for aesthetic appeal and utility. In addition to shading shuttle bus passengers from the sun (and protecting them from occasional rain showers), it also reduces the facility's operating costs by facilitating an open-air lobby, Bolton explains. The awning is made of 16,700 square feet of polytetrafluoroethylene cone-structure canopies from Birdair. The same concept and materials were used during SAN's Terminal 2 expansion, further relating the structures aesthetically, he notes.
Inside, two customer lobbies provide restrooms and vertical transportation to other levels.
Multi-level fueling, with 72 stations spread throughout three floors, is one of the most exciting aspects of the new facility, asserts Bolton. "Normally you don't fuel vehicles inside a building," he explains, noting that the facility consequently includes multiple safety features.
Designing the indoor, above-grade fueling system was a challenge, Wong acknowledges. Ultimately, however, the project team demonstrated to building and fire officials that its design meets the safety intent of applicable codes.
Another notable feature is a 7,500-square-foot restaurant space on the top floor. Although the space does not have a tenant yet, SAN officials expect it to be a sought-after location, given its views of the airfield, San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego.
Keeping the work zone outside of SAN's aircraft operating area allowed Sundt Construction to manage the airport conrac project as if it were any other job, notes Kirsch. Not having to badge crewmembers saved the airport time and money, adds Bolton.
Because the work site was located in a largely undeveloped area of the airport, it provided other advantages unrelated to security. Direct access off the freeway facilitated truck traffic and material delivery, and there was space available for contractor parking, material storage and staging equipment/supplies.
At one point, crews used tower cranes to move materials, but otherwise, construction did not impact airport operations. Overall, Bolton recalls the construction process as "pretty straightforward."
Building the 2.1 million-square-foot facility in less than two years required careful planning, Kirsch qualifies. Following a detailed schedule and sequence plan, crews cast the entire structure in place in less than a year, he notes. To do so, the team ran three distinct concrete operations and poured three decks in three different areas each week to meet the airport's aggressive schedule. On average, crews poured close to 50,000 square feet of deck concrete every week, details Kirsch. In total, the project required more than 325 tons of structural steel and 100,000 cubic yards of concrete.
As with all new construction at SAN, sustainability was a primary goal for the new conrac, notes Bolton. The building is designed to achieve Silver Certification from the United States Green Building Council in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Creating a lighting system that is both practical and energy-efficient was a particular challenge because the facility is staffed 24 hours per day, and the ready/return area requires roughly three times more light than a typical parking garage. A control system that turns down lights in some parts of the facility during off-peak periods helped designers meet the challenge, notes Wong.
Also an environmental plus, the facility is designed to reclaim 85% to 90% of the water used onsite.
The airport's proximity to the San Diego Bay added unique challenges regarding soil conditions. Because most of the work site included reclaimed Bay muds from previous dredging operations, engineers were concerned about liquefy-able soils, Kirsch explains. The site was also previously home to World War II-era aerospace facilities, so they were also attuned to potential soil contamination and the pile foundations of buildings that remained on the site. The associated mitigation process involved a lot of testing, with specialists monitoring soil and air quality prior to and during construction, Bolton reports.
After environmental studies determined that soil contaminants were minor and not harmful to the public, the project team developed ways to minimize the amount of soil exported from the site. Crews used an auger displacement approach to install piles for the building structure that bridged what was already in the ground, Kirsch says.
Business & Community Outreach
As part of SAN's ongoing effort to help local and small businesses, the airport built out tenant space for small market operators. The program allows rental car companies that might not otherwise be able to afford space in the new facility an opportunity to conduct business at the airport, comments Bolton. The airport recoups its build-out costs through monthly rent payments from the small businesses that consequently became tenants. "That got a lot of the smaller companies into the building with the big, national companies," he explains. "The airport authority has a strategy where we try to engage the community at multiple levels when we do a construction project."
Toward that end, the authority awarded about $70 million of the total $186 million in construction contracts for the project to local businesses.
Public art is another visible outreach effort, with the airport authority requiring SAN to spend 2% of all of eligible construction costs on artwork for the airport. "This fits our community strategy to really make this a unique experience and engage the art community in public art projects at the airport," says Bolton.
Two major pieces, Swarm and Hive, are located in the vertical transportation areas. Both were inspired by insect behavior and include automobile parts. Swarm is comprised of roughly 800 Hyundai taillights, and Hive includes side mirrors from a Ford truck.
The bio-swale area that was added outside the facility to collect rain and runoff water includes two 54-foot kinetic sculptural forms that take inspiration from aircraft marshals, metronomes and the San Diego Bay.
Ueberall International, an artist group based in Southern California, developed artwork for the facility's northeastern exterior façade that is expected to debut later this year.
Looking Forward & Back
After completing its Terminal 2 "Green Build" expansion a few years ago, SAN created a formal program for identifying and analyzing lessons learned during construction projects. The process helps the airport team review each project to understand what worked, what did not and what could be improved for the next project, explains Bolton.
"We can always do better," he notes. When the best practices summary for its consolidated car rental facility project is complete, SAN plans to make the document available to other airports.