Parking Improvements at Louisville Muhammad Ali Int’l

Parking Improvements at Louisville Muhammad Ali Int’l
Kristen Rindfleisch
Published in: 

With passenger traffic on the rise and dated parking facilities straining at the seams, Louisville Muhammad Ali International (SDF) began expanding and upgrading its parking operations in 2019. Since then, the Kentucky airport has invested more than $36 million in new facilities, systems and related projects.

The changes are all part of SDF Next, a broader improvement program that began in December 2019 and will deliver more than $400 million of enhancements to the terminal and airfield. The airport experienced significant growth in 2018 and logged an all-time high 4.2 million enplanements in 2019. As of this July, SDF was running at about 93% of its record 2019 passenger levels; beginning in November, the airport will serve 36 nonstop destinations—more than ever before. To help meet demand and improve the customer experience, SDF hired a partner to manage its parking services and facilities, added a new premier lot and expanded the shuttle lot. It also moved rental car operations to the first level of the existing parking garage, installed an automated system to help guide drivers to open parking spaces and created a rewards program for frequent parkers.

The airport used passenger facility charge funds for the rental car program relocation and airport authority cash to fund the new parking facilities and program enhancements.


Project: Parking Improvements

Location: Louisville (KY) Muhammad Ali Int’l Airport

Scope: Relocating rental car operations ($30 million); adding premier parking lot ($5 million); implementing parking guidance system ($1.3 million); introducing customer rewards program (administered by contractor; no direct costs to airport)

Funding: Passenger facility charges funded relocation of rental car operation; airport authority funded for new lot & guidance system

Capacity: 3,200 spaces in parking garage; 1,500 spaces in surface lot; 500 spaces in new premier lot; 1,000 spaces in express shuttle lot

Parking Management: SP+

Construction Lead: Messer Construction Co.

Design Lead: Alliance Corp.

Automated Parking Guidance System: Park Assist®, by TKH Security

Valet Services: AmeriPark

Rewards Program: SP+, with administrative support from R Solutions

Parking/Access Control System:
TIBA Parking System

AVI Equipment/Readers: Transcore

Key Benefits: Faster, more efficient parking; online reservations; contactless entry & exit; covered facilities for car rental services; perks & discounts for frequent parkers

With passenger traffic at an all-time high in 2019, total parking revenue at SDF was $16.58 million for fiscal year 2019—23.9% of the airport’s total annual revenue. Parking revenue for fiscal year 2020 was $10.89 million. Officials estimate parking revenue at $6.53 million for calendar year 2021, and it is budgeted to be $9.5 million in fiscal year 2022. Adam Thomas, director of properties for the Louisville Regional Airport Authority (LRAA), reports that parking revenue is already starting to rebound after COVID-induced dips. In July, SDF logged its highest week in total parking revenue since late February 2020.

Taking on a Partner

After decades of self-managing the parking operations at SDF, the airport authority sought proposals and ultimately awarded a 10-year contract to SP+ in March 2019. Replacing the airport’s obsolete parking access and revenue control system was a key component of the contract. “They’ve been fantastic partners—helping us through the process and bringing the best practices from a customer experience perspective to the market,” says LRAA Executive Director Dan Mann. “That’s something we didn’t have when we did it in-house.”

As part of its agreement with the airport, SP+ committed to invest $1.5 million in system improvements. While the company’s primary responsibility is to manage parking and shuttle operations, it is also responsible for maintaining the parking facilities/systems, implementing customer service enhancements and promoting new touchless technology. Bob Reiser, senior vice president covering the company’s airport operations in the East, notes that SP+ currently provides parking and/or ground transportation and valet services at 74 airports across the U.S. It maintains a staff of 50 employees at SDF. 

Relocating Rental Operations

In 2019, LRAA consulted airport partners and stakeholders about changing SDF’s rental car operations, which were located adjacent to the terminal in an uncovered facility. In lieu of building a new standalone rental car facility, the airport authority decided to relocate operations to the first level of the parking garage. This would facilitate future improvements and enhance service by allowing car rental customers to go straight into the garage. Previously, an uncovered walk left them exposed to the elements. However, the changes also removed 900 covered parking spaces during SDF’s record-setting year for passenger traffic—and it was already challenging for customers to find open spaces.

The authority evaluated existing infrastructure and worked with SP+ to develop a request for proposals in January 2020 to meet customers’ current and future needs. Specifically, SDF sought a turnkey camera-based guidance system for levels two through four of its public parking garage. “These were old and dated facilities,” Mann notes, adding that the airport saw an opportunity to upgrade the structure while traffic was low due to COVID-19.

Multiple Improvements

SP+ hired Signature Control Systems to replace all ticket dispensers, pay stations, gate arms and express lane technologies.

With consulting support from SP+, the airport purchased TKH Security’s Park Assist® Guidance System for its garage. The strategy was to make the most of the spaces that remained by improving ingress and egress and helping customers identify open spaces quickly and easily with color-coded LED lights. Upon entering the garage, visitors can see real-time counts for each level in the garage. “It was a great initiative that prevented people from needing to drive around looking for spaces and allowed us to maximize the utilization of the garage,” Reiser explains.

“They had a somewhat antiquated system that did not have full automation and the ability to provide online services, marketing and reservations,” says Reiser. “The [TKH Security] Park Assist system was a tremendous enhancement to the overall parking program.”

Crews installed the new guidance system during the fourth quarter of 2020 without closing the garage. “That’s the beauty of the installation,” explains Darrell Brantley, TKH Security director of Airport Programs–North America. “With the camera-based guidance system, it installs down the middle of the drive aisle, so we install in live parking environments. An airport never has to shut down levels and clear vehicles out of spaces. We install without affecting their parking operation.”

Levels two and three of the parking garage use the company’s M4 smart-sensor system to provide vehicle guidance, video surveillance and full-matrix signage with directed wayfinding and space counts. Because level four is uncovered, it leverages the S1 rooftop solution for space counting and video surveillance.

Brantley explains that TKH Security’s parking guidance system benefits customers and airports. For customers, it improves the parking experience by showing drivers where available spaces are and can take anxiety out of the equation by allowing them to reserve spaces online. On the flip side, it can help airports manage their parking operations by allowing them to implement variable-rate pricing and control parking areas within a garage without installing barriers or new gates.

Brantley reports that the TKH parking guidance system has been implemented in about 25 major North American airports, and that number continues to grow.

Speaking from the airport authority’s perspective, Mann reports that customers have been very pleased with the parking upgrades. The system’s cameras help employees locate lost vehicles, and high-definition footage is valuable for security purposes. On the administrative side, the platform offers a web-based dashboard that shows real-time space availability and occupancy, usage levels and dwell time reports.

More Options

As part of the SDF Next program, officials added a 500-space premier parking lot with a covered walkway to the nearby terminal. It replaces an aging surface lot that had about 30% less capacity.

Mann says that the pavement of the previous lot—formerly branded as a credit card lot—wasn’t in great shape. In fact, construction crews discovered holes underneath the surface that delayed the project by about 45 days.

Originally, SDF planned to build the new premier lot in phases, but COVID-related passenger declines allowed crews to complete it all at once, from March to December 2020. The new lot offers parking close to the terminal at a reasonable price point ($10/day), says Thomas.

Farther from the terminal, SDF then converted its former cellphone lot to a new express shuttle lot with 1,000 spaces, providing an additional parking option for customers.

Rewards Program

Leveraging the automatic vehicle identification technology of the new the revenue control system that SP+ installed, the airport was able to launch a frequent parker program called SDF Rewards in late 2020. “This touchless and fully automated program enables users to drive up, drive in and drive out without having to talk to anybody, hold tickets or make payments because they have credit cards on file,” explains Thomas. “It’s very easy to use.”

With the installation of barcode readers, SP+ can also send customers interactive marketing messages, discounts and promotions through online parking reservations and purchases.

SP+ manages SDF Rewards and covers all costs associated with the program. According to Reiser, the company administers 15 rewards programs at U.S. airports. R Solutions, its partner for more than two decades, provides 24-hour customer assistance, issues parking credentials and handles reward redemption and other administrative details. 

Lessons Learned & Ongoing Work

Thomas notes that collaborating with SDF’s partners and stakeholders was key when planning and executing recent parking improvements. Feedback was solicited from rental car providers, SP+ and various internal departments, such as public relations and marketing regarding passenger trends and customer requests. “It was really important that we cast a wide net in terms of who we’re asking about what kind of improvements we’re making,” Thomas says.

The biggest lesson learned for Mann involved signage. “You think you’ve communicated well, but there’s never enough signage,” he reflects. The airport learned a lot by simply asking customers if they had any problems finding their way to the terminal from the long-term parking area. “We did that very early on in the process, and it really helped us modify our signage and perfect our communication plan,” he advises.

Work continues on the parking garage, with crews rehabbing the exterior, repairing concrete spalling, repainting the deck and fixing leaks in skylights. Mann notes that the airport took the opportunity to overhaul the entire structure while moving rental cars and upgrading systems and services for customers.


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