Lambert Modernizes Terminal While Preserving Iconic Features

Rebecca Douglas
Published in: 

St. Louis International Airport

It's a scaled-back version of the original plan, but Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is forging ahead with major capital improvements despite a choking national economy and severe industry constraints. More than three decades have elapsed since the airport's last major renovation, and officials are pleased work is in process to renovate and modernize the 52-year-old terminal.

"The public had developed a bad impression of Lambert as a rundown facility," explains airport director Richard Hrabko. "We're trying to deliver a better customer experience with limited dollars."

" Technically, they're not domes," specifies architect Thomas Hoepf, FAIA of Teng & Associates.  "They're thin-shell concrete vaults supported at four base points; domes are supporte continually around their perimeter base."

The plan, dubbed the Airport Experience, was trimmed to $70.5 million from its original scope of $105 million in light of current economic strains. Just as the first two major elements of the project neared completion in early June, the city announced plans to issue an estimated $125 million of bonds to help fund airport projects. Nearly $59.5 million will finance the next phase of the terminal and concourse improvements, $20.3 million is for airfield projects and $21.8 million is for debt service reserves, interest and issuance fees. Bond funds will also be earmarked for renovations included in the airport's five-year capital improvement plan: climate control upgrades, roof replacements for three concourses, six new airline loading bridges, emergency generators and new elevators in the Main Terminal garage.

Facts & Figures

Project: Terminal and Concourse Capital Improvements

Location: Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

Cost: $70.5 million

Financial Analysis: Unison Consulting

Architect/Engineer: Teng & Associates

Program Manager: Kwame Building Group

Mechanical/Plumbing: Burns and McDonnell

Electrical/Special Systems: Ross & Baruzinni

Electrical System: Webb Engineering Services

Design Management: HNTB

Concept Plan: HOK

Baggage Handling System: Vanderlande Industries

BHS Prime Design/Builder: Kozeny-Wagoner

Roadway Signs: Apple Design

Details: City is issuing $125 million in bonds for current and future capital improvements.

The multi-phase plan received a boost shortly after the bonds were listed when Standard & Poor's (S&P) raised the airport's credit rating from BBB+ to A- with a stable outlook. The rating agency cited the airport's debt service stabilization fund, created by St. Louis city comptroller Darlene Green after a 2005 bond refunding, as a major factor for the upgrade.

According to S&P, the debt service stabilization fund adds additional protections and liquidity, making debt issued by Lambert more attractive to investors despite the very challenging operating environment for airports nationwide. A healthy balance in the airport's development fund and the creation of an airline rate mitigation fund were also cited as factors for the upgrade.

"It's a tough time to sell bonds and finance capital improvements," concedes Hrabko. "But we're starting to see things loosen up a little. Our financial analysis is based on very, very conservative projections, and our financial experts (Unison Consulting) assure us we can afford to take on the additional debt."

The airport is also trying to capitalize on a two-year exemption to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for general airport revenue bonds. The provision, which lasts until Dec. 31, 2010, was included in the American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"We have a window of opportunity while AMT is in abeyance," Hrabko explains. "It not only helps with the new bonds, but also with the refinancing of up to $125 million of our prior debt."

The city's ability to secure credit enhancement insurance is cited as a pivotal factor. "With surety, the rate becomes more competitive," notes Hrabko.

Pending legislative approvals and changing market conditions have airport officials waiting to see how matters unfold.

"It's not a done deal, but it's looking good so far," Hrabko reported in early June.

Preserving the Past

A $2.2 million renovation of four iconic domes in the main ticketing hall was the first major project undertaken. The grand architectural features are trademarks of the terminal designed by renowned Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki.

While some modern architects would be intimidated to "tamper" with a master's design, architects at Teng & Associates savored the opportunity. "How often do you get to touch a Yamasaki building?" queries Teng vice president and design principal Thomas Hoepf, FAIA. "We focused on restoring its original glory," adds associate and project manager Michelle Bear, AIA.

The large domes (each about 150 feet wide, with 36-foot high ceilings) coated with white Sonakrete, a cellulous material that provided acoustic properties and a smoother texture to reflect light more evenly. The fresh, bright white coating delivered dramatic results because the structures had yellowed with age and dust. "It's like someone turned on the lights," described one airport employee observing the renovations.

Actual upgrades to the lighting will further enhance the effect. Acrylic panels were removed from the triangular skylights in between the domes and light emitting diode (LED) fixtures will replace old fluorescent lighting and allow the airport to program light changing effects such as color and movement.

Automated controls and daylight sensors allow lights to adjust themselves. A special 3M film was also applied to the floor-to-ceiling windows to diffuse the natural light and enhance the effects of the LEDs.

New terrazzo flooring and new ticketing counters, without overhanging canopies that obscure agents and block windows, will provide yet another aesthetic boost to the new ticketing area.

"The industry has changed a lot since Yamasaki's design was put in place," explains Hoepf. "Throughout the years, many accommodations were made for functional purposes. We're clearing out the clutter that had accumulated and returning it to the clean, pristine grand space it once was."

A set of stairs/escalators and associated storage areas, for instance, will be moved to eliminate visual encumbrances.

"We didn't want to do anything to destroy the historic significance of the structure," states Hrabko. "But we needed to give it a more modern feel and improve the flow and convenience of operations."

Relocating a major security checkpoint and moving more concessions to post-security locations are prime examples of such efforts.

"We've also created a visual connection between the mid-level area and the ticketing hall above it," Hoepf adds. "Connecting the spaces horizontally and vertically will make wayfinding more intuitive. Passengers won't have to rely only on signs. The design will innately improve their awareness of where they are in the airport."

Handle with Care (& Speed)

A new $5.5 million in-bound baggage system and updated claim area was the other main project wrapping up as the city began marketing airport bonds.

Six carousels, two oversized bag claim devices and new conveyor systems were installed. "We utilized a design/build project delivery process and the entire conversion was complete in six months," reports Mike Minges, program manager for Kwame Building Group.

The new Vanderlande system is expected to be faster, smoother, quieter and more resistant to luggage jams than its decades-old predecessor. Low-profile carousels open the views for passengers and visitors in the baggage claim area.

A loop in the conveyor on the airport's apron level allows two tugs to access the system at once. "It basically doubles the capacity because they're able to unload from both sides," notes Minges. "Plus, the new conveyors run faster."

Carousels were typically decommissioned one at a time to minimize disruption to passengers. Airlines shared space in the interim. "It was a very cooperative effort," Hrabko recalls.

Leading the power and lighting design for the new baggage claim and other areas throughout the terminal and concourses fell to electric and special systems subcontractor Ross & Baruzinni. "We and Webb Engineering Services spent a tremendous amount of time on field verification and analysis of existing conditions," notes vice president and senior project manager Jim Heisserer, PE and LEED AP.

A random placement pattern for circular lighting fixtures will allow Ross & Baruzinni to work around existing ductwork and other potential impediments.

"We've worked at Lambert as a sub or prime since the '70s," notes Heisserer. "So we are able to take their long-term maintenance issues into account for our design. We think it's important to provide a design that not only works initially, but one that the airport can live with for years to come."

Emergency lighting, for instance, will be provided by a centralized battery inverter system backed up by generators. "It's like having a flashlight ready to go, but you don't drain the batteries in the meantime," he explains.

The fire alarm and access control systems required less work as they were just updated two years ago. But Ross & Baruzinni will extend them into new areas.

Next on the List

As the dome renovations and baggage system replacement were completed, a $1.1 million wayfinding project was getting ready to bid. The project will overhaul all roadway signs for airport traffic from the nearby interstate and other entry points into Lambert.

"Over the years, signs were added and changed," explains Minges. "The new signage will standardize messages and make it easier for travelers to process those messages."

Concessions Coups

Three new concessions - a wine bar, bakery/café and pasta restaurant - are part of the main terminal renovations that are already complete. Eleven more are in the works and scheduled to open later this year.

You won't find any French or California vintages at Missouri Vineyards. It only serves wines produced in Missouri. The airport originated the idea and its concessions management firm, HMSHost, made it happen. The new table service wine bar occupies a prime space in the main terminal, with views of the runway and newly renovated domes.

"Passengers can plug in their laptops, watch the airplanes and enjoy a great glass of wine," notes Hrabko.

Next door is Brioche Dorée Café, an upscale but quick French bakery and café. The Pasta House, a popular local brand, is located in the lower level of the Main Terminal.

Mosaics Tapas Fusion is scheduled for construction later this summer, after Starbucks Coffee is relocated.

A renegotiated deal with HMSHost allowed the airport to factor concessions into its overall plans sooner rather than later. "The contract would have expired in 2013, but we extended it to 2020. We needed to move forward and didn't want to wait until 2013," Hrabko explains.

In exchange, HMSHost agreed to develop new food concepts (including local brands), invest a minimum of $16 million at Lambert and give up exclusivity on vacated spaces, meaning the airport can market them itself.

Seven new concessions will eventually combine with four retail spaces to form a post-security mall and food court in the C/D Connector. Buildout for the 12,000-square-foot area is expected to cost $5.6 million and include a number of unique challenges. "We'll need to relocate fuel lines and lower the apron area underneath to allow enough clearance height for tugs," explains Minges. Such preliminary work is scheduled to be out for bids in early fall.

More on the Boards

Lighting and flooring in the public corridors, repainting the exposed structure and restroom renovations throughout Concourses A, B and C are also scheduled. "The facility has experienced a lot of wear and tear over the years," says Minges. "Replacing the metal ceilings in the Main Terminal with a modern ceiling system and brightening up the dark brown structure in the concourses with lighter colors will really open things up."

With the overall design of the Main Terminal and concourse renovation projects at the 30% design stage in June, bid documents are expected to be completed at the end of the year. The next projects would subsequently be bid in January 2010 with construction starting in April and stretching over the next two years.

"We're fixing a lot of things that should have been fixed long ago," says Hrabko. "For years, runways were the priority; now we're catching up inside."


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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