Norfolk Int'l Spruces Up Terminal with $40 million Facelift

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

With the recent addition of a sweeping skylight in its main lobby, Norfolk International Airport (ORF) finally has the grand connection to nearby botanical gardens its original 1970s design intended. According to ORF officials, the 10,000-square-foot skylight and other elements of the airport's $34 million renovation program create a terminal that is modern and aesthetically stunning, and also more efficient and better equipped to meet current and future passenger needs. A $6 million project updated ORF's general aviation facility. 

Norfolk Airport Authority Executive Director Robert Bowen, A.A.E., notes that the main passenger terminal was in need of a "major freshening up" when planning began for the renovation in 2009. The tired, worn facility had low ceilings, little natural light, cluttered concourses and an outdated balance of post- and pre-security concessions-not the experience officials wanted to provide ORF's 3 million annual passengers.

Terminal Renovation 
Location: Norfolk (VA) Int'l Airport 
Phase I: Nov. 2013-March 2014
Phase II: July 2014-July 2016
Cost: $34 million 
Funding: State entitlements ($16.2 million); federal entitlements ($13.9 million); airport reserves ($3.8 million)
Architect: Gresham, Smith & Partners 
Phase I Contractor: Clancy & Theys 
Phase II Contractor: ET Gresham
Atrium Furniture: Allermuir; Arcadia; 
Kron Designs; Leland Int'l; Nevins; Source Int'l
Planters: Landscape Forms
Waste & Recycling Receptacles: 
Magnuson Group
Food & Beverage Concessionaire: HMSHost
Retail Concessionaire: Hudson Group
New Features in Lobby: 10,000-sq.-ft. 
skylight & natural plants

The main terminal, built in 1974, was originally designed to include a skylight in the lobby, but it was never installed. In 2002, ORF constructed a separate arrivals terminal, complete with new baggage claim and rental car areas, and connected it to the main departures terminal with a glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge. Other than minor updates here and there, the main terminal remained largely unchanged since it first opened, Bowen relates.

"The renovation is primarily about improving the passenger experience," adds Charles Braden, ORF's director of market development. "We can control what we can control, and that's it. By taking the facility here and trying to affect the experience-that's something we can accomplish." Specific elements of the renovation designed to improve the customer experience included updating terminal facilities, ensuring that the airport offers amenities customers want and creating a calm, relaxing environment. 

With passenger volume growing, such measures seem more important than even. Traffic at ORF peaked in 2005, and then dropped with the widespread consolidation of airlines and during the Great Recession, which economists mark from late 2007 to June 2009. In 2013, government sequestration further impacted the airport negatively, as nearly half of Norfolk's economy is based on the military and government activities. In June 2015, however, ORF experienced an increase in capacity, and this June, the airport celebrated its 13th consecutive month of year-over-year growth. Total passenger volume was up about 8% year-to-date, and officials expect the growth to continue through the end of the year.

ORF executed its recent $34 million renovation project without incurring any debt, Bowen reports proudly. Phase I, which cost about $14.2 million, was paid for with $7.5 million in state entitlements, $5 million in federal entitlements and $1.7 million of airport reserves. Phase II, which cost about $19.7 million, was funded with $8.7 million in state entitlements, $8.9 in federal entitlements and $2.1 million from airport reserves. 

As a project precursor, the airport hired design/consulting firm Gresham, Smith & Partners to perform a facility assessment in 2010. "We looked at all public spaces, all passenger processing elements, and broke that down by what we call journey segments," explains Wilson Rayfield, executive vice president at the firm. Journey segments include the ticketing and check-in process, concessions, security screening, holdrooms and restrooms, as well as circulation, baggage claim and access to parking, rental cars and other ground transportation.

In addition to evaluating the functionality of the terminal, consultants assessed its overall feel and how the facility reflected the airport authority's goals. Expanding sightlines and improving wayfinding, without necessarily relying on signage, emerged as important issues. 

Although it was well maintained, ORF's 40-year-old terminal was dated and dark, Rayfield comments. "They hadn't updated the interior in a long time." 

During Phase I of the project, the airport:
• renovated and expanded the security checkpoint in Concourse B; 
• installed terrazzo flooring in the lobby and throughout both concourses; 
• replaced escalators;
• installed new carpeting in holdrooms; and
• upgraded safety features. 

Phase I also added the project's hallmark element: the 10,000-square-foot skylight in the main lobby. 

Phase II included updates to the Concourse A security checkpoint; all new public restrooms on both concourses; and fresh interior finishes such as walls, ceilings and lighting in the concourses and restrooms. 

Long-Awaited Changes
Prior to recent renovations, the design and ambiance of ORF's main lobby did not leave a great impression on departing and arriving passengers, notes Rayfield. The overall space was dark, and freestanding concession kiosks and potted plants of varying sizes and health made the lobby hard to navigate, he explains. "When you were standing in there, you really couldn't see beyond any of that."

Working with its concessionaires, Hudson Group and HMSHost, the airport rebalanced the retail and food/beverage programs to shift more offerings onto the concourses. The changes allowed designers to open up the main lobby and fill it with natural illumination from the skylight. "It's been a huge addition and improvement to our main lobby," says Bowen.

New finish materials include travertine marble on existing columns and terrazzo flooring. Designers also added an array of strategically selected plants. Given ORF's neighbor, the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, officials had long wanted to incorporate an "airport-in-a-garden theme," but plants did not fare well inside the previous terminal due to its lack of natural light.  

These days, plants fill the atrium and thrive under the new 10,000-square-foot skylight. In fact, the plants flourished so well, they quickly grew beyond the 12-foot threshold needed to maintain sightlines established by the architects. "The plants that we had previously had trouble growing. Now, we actually have trouble keeping them from not growing," Braden quips. "It's a good problem."

With the stunning effects of the new skylight, interior landscaping and other renovations, ORF's lobby now serves as a signature space within the terminal-something the airport previously lacked, Rayfield notes. "It is a hub for passengers at the airport, and [the authority] knew they needed to make that space really significant."

Matthew Amos, architect with Gresham, Smith & Partners, reports that passengers and meeters/greeters alike are enthusiastic about the changes. "It's gone from a space that everyone was forced to walk through that they quickly passed through, to a space that people intentionally stay," he explains.

"It's full of people all of the time," adds Rayfield. 

Checkpoint & Other Updates
ORF's two passenger screening areas were also updated during the renovation project. Aesthetics, processing efficiency and access were all improved, Rayfield reports. "Security requirements have changed so much in the last 10 years, the [previous] checkpoints had overgrown the space and were very constrained and dark," he elaborates. 

New, larger TSA checkpoints were configured to process current passengers more efficiently and allow for the easy addition of more lanes to accommodate future traffic growth. The checkpoints' clear-span design will allow ORF maximum flexibility as security requirements evolve, explains Amos. 

Floor-to-ceiling glass walls on the north and south sides allow ample daylight to stream into the checkpoints, making them "open, light, bright and airy," says Rayfield. 

Restrooms also received major improvements, adds Amos. Updated, more efficient plumbing and larger, more comfortable stalls are more pleasing for airport visitors, he remarks. 

While modernization was the main goal of the renovation project, designers were careful not to detract from or compete with the terminal's original architecture. "(ORF officials) are very proud of the architecture of the facility," says Amos. "It was important to them that we didn't digress from a design standpoint too much. They wanted anything we built to look like it was part of the existing facility, just fresh and new."

Managing Construction
Because it was important to maintain safety and access during the project, renovations were carefully phased to minimize impact to travelers and tenants, Rayfield notes. 

In the main lobby, the construction team built what Bowen refers to as "the great wall" to shield travelers from work noise and dust. Then, crews cordoned off two-thirds of the lobby with floor-to-ceiling plywood and heavy plastic. Once construction in that section was complete, they moved the wall and worked on the remaining portion of the lobby. The temporary partitions were partially finished-painted, with baseboards and signage-because keeping up appearances for passenger comfort was important, adds Rayfield. 

At TSA checkpoints, workers built new screening stations around the existing structures, so much of the construction was invisible to passengers until the day the new checkpoints opened. 

The airport issued guidelines to contractors about when and how they could perform disruptive tasks, like installing terrazzo. Typically, they completed such work between midnight and 4 a.m., after the last flight landed and before the first batch of departing passengers streamed in the following morning. 

During skylight work, crews first installed the skylight outside and then cut away the roof underneath it. "Besides cranes outside, people had no idea the skylight was there until we ripped out the ceiling," Amos recalls. 

To accommodate passengers during bathroom renovations, ORF added a new set of restrooms on each concourse. New and renovated facilities include oversized stalls to allow room for passengers traveling with luggage. Each set contains two standalone restrooms for each gender, which allows maintenance crews to close half for cleaning and keep the other half in operation. 

Adding & Shuffling Concessions 
Prior to renovations, ORF was arranged in typical pre-9/11 fashion, with concessions concentrated before the TSA checkpoints. "[Now,] passengers don't frequently eat or shop before they go through Security," Rayfield says. The new program redistributes offerings to reflect that change. 

When the airport started its renovation project, concessionaires presented plans to make capital improvements to their facilities as well. "It ended up being a good collaboration," reflects Bowen. "At the same time we were freshening up the public areas, the concession areas were being upgraded as well." 

HMSHost brought in more locally inspired restaurant options, like James River Grill on Concourse A and Back Bay Bistro on Concourse B. The company also seized the opportunity to upgrade its quick-serve options to balance and complement the new full-service spaces, explains Bryan Loden, HMSHost vice president of business development.

With the new floor plan in place, and passenger numbers on the rise, concession numbers are growing. From July 2015 to May 2016, food and beverage sales increased 9%, and retail was up 6%.

The airport authority reaffirmed its commitment to ORF's existing food and beverage concessionaire by extending the current lease with HMSHost and partner FDY by five years, to June 2026. The $63 million extension brings the total value of the contract to $113 million. 

In July, HMSHost announced plans to open three new restaurants: The Local @ ORF, a "gastropub" that will feature products from local farmers and breweries; ORF MKT, which will focus on using fresh, all-natural, local, farm-grown, sustainable products; and Here's To Heroes, a partnership with AB InBev to honor all branches of the U.S. military.

"HMSHost's plans for the future are designed to appeal to what today's modern travelers are looking for: quality, variety, convenience and a personal connection," says Loden. 

The company's new trio will join its lineup of seven existing restaurants (Back Bay Bistro, James River Grill, Great American Bagel, Burger King and three Starbucks).

Efficiency Improvements
Just like all other projects at ORF, recent renovations stressed sustainability and energy efficiency, notes Braden. The skylight is glazed with high-performance, low-emissivity glass with a ceramic frit to reduce radiant heat gain in the main lobby. Liberal use of glass in the atrium and security checkpoints allows the airport to take advantage of natural light and consequently reduce its energy consumption. Clocks and light sensors control artificial illumination in both spaces. 

Heat gain on the south side of the checkpoint is reduced by three overhanging louvers on the building exterior that block the summer sun from hitting the glass walls. 

Terrazzo flooring was selected for its long-lasting, easy-maintenance qualities. Carpet, while good at muffling noise, does not fare well in high-traffic areas, explains Bowen. "Acres and acres of carpet were replaced with terrazzo flooring," he reports, adding that the new hard-surface flooring brightens the terminal and gives it a more modern feel.  

In less-traveled holdroom areas, the airport installed new carpeting. 

Other efficiency-driven changes included the installation of lighting that consumes less energy and replacing ORF's 40-year-old escalators with updated and safer equipment.  

What's Next?
A third phase, not included in the $34 million price tag, kicked off in June. Key elements include the renovation of restrooms in the main lobby, the addition of lactation rooms near the main lobby and on each concourse, the relocation of ORF's information booth and the addition of non-public storage space. 

Upgrading exterior signage and wayfinding within the building is another major project scheduled for fiscal year 2017, Bowen adds. Other short-term plans include landscaping and sidewalk work. 


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