Aviation Goes to the Mall

Chapter News by • 09/14

Event: Transportation Retail: Planning, Design and Construction
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.10.10
Speakers: Kate Coburn — Principal, AECOM; Carrol Bennett — General Manager, Real Estate Development, Port Authority of NY & NJ; Stephen L. Dwoskin, AIA — Design Principal, Callison Architecture; Ellery Plowman — Vice President, Business Development & Leasing, Westfield Concession Management; Steve Dumas — Senior Vice President, Retail Design & Tenant Coordination, Westfield Concession Management; Andy Frankl — President, IBEX Construction
Introduction: Robert Eisenstat, AIA, LEED AP — Assistant Chief Architect, Design Division, Engineering Department, Port Authority of NY & NJ
Moderator: Bill Fife — Principal, The Fife Group & Aviation Council Chair, Transportation & Development Institute, ASCE
Organizers: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee


JFK’s JetBlue terminal, designed by Gensler.

Photo by Prakash Patel

Air travel has changed drastically over recent decades, and not generally for the better. Rather than glamour, excitement, and optimism, flying today means delays and difficulties. Retailers and developers are adjusting to these conditions by turning airport concourses and similar spaces into multifunction malls where the traveler can find diversion and information as well as all manner of merchandise.

Rising fuel costs and other economic trends have driven airlines to cut back on once-routine amenities. “Aviation retail is just a small piece of it,” said moderator Bill Fife, an aviation consultant. But “it’s what’s keeping many airports alive.” This field has evolved beyond the days of “high-priced hot dogs [and] rip-off retail,” Fife noted. The sector is now huge — $4.8 billion in 2009 at airports alone, according to AECOM’s Kate Coburn — and involves global brands, diverse food options, and specialty services. Development, design, and operations need to take these scales and trends into account, along with post-9/11 security concerns. Since Transportation Security Administration procedures have changed passengers’ behavior, contemporary airport design places more retail on the air side of the security checkpoint; since no one lingers in the pre-security zone any more, and increasing flight delays mean passengers have more time on their hands once they’re between the scanners and the gate.

To fill that time and stimulate commerce, airports are including short-lease popup stores, sponsored entertainment, and locally specific attractions (fresh cheese and an airport library in Amsterdam; chic restaurants at JFK’s JetBlue terminal, where, as IBEX’s Andy Frankl said, “The idea was to change the need to go to the airport to [a] want to go to the airport.”). Cities and transit authorities increasingly rely on public-private partnership models to focus expertise. Facilities must balance commercial imperatives with practical concerns: wayfinding, neighborhood demographics, travel patterns. Some floor plans “create a meander” to maximize revenue, as Westfield’s Steve Dumas described in reference to O’Hare’s revamped Terminal 5. Callison’s Steve Dwoskin described “transportation-oriented food [as] a better mousetrap to be invented;” as inflight dining for most passengers is becoming extinct, London restaurateur Gordon Ramsay’s “plane food” in sturdy reusable carry-on pouches represents a match of opportunity and invention.

Perhaps the best news for the New York region is the Port Authority’s plan to upgrade both the midtown and George Washington Bridge bus terminals. For the former, said General Manager of Real Estate Development Carrol Bennett, the authority is close to signing a lease with Vornado Realty Trust for a north-wing expansion. For the latter, an interior renovation is now in the design stage, bringing much-needed improvements in lighting, signage, bus-traffic efficiency, and local employment. She expects this project to reach completion around 2013.

One Response to Aviation Goes to the Mall

  1. Rob Eisenstat says:

    Thanks for the even-handed report. I’m sorry that the q and a session didn’t occur.
    Some of the challenges that exist in the design of transportation facilities that integrate retail include wayfinding considerations for passengers vs. Retail prominence,and appropriate space to accommodate pedestrian flow vs. Desire by developers to maximize sq. Ftg.of leaseholds. The Grand Central Terminal example that was repeatedly cited actually does not have a large retail component, and it is hard to imagine a public space created in a new facility today where the retail and advertising elements would be as understated as is the case in the concourse space that we all love.

    Rob Eisenstat, AIA, LEED AP

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