Tom Allett visited Phoenix Sky Harbor, Arizona, where multi-million dollar regeneration programmes are underlining the airport’s recent success.
Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) led the top ten US airports last year in terms of passenger growth. By handling 40,591,948 travellers in 2011 it achieved ninth place in the US and 23rd position in the world. It is the airport’s highest figure since 2007 – it represented a very healthy 5.2% rise over 2010 and marked four consecutive years of steady growth. It also achieved a 16-month spell of consecutive growth during 2010 to 2011, which according to the airport’s management team, was largely driven by the welcome news that business travel is back. This March, Sky Harbor’s Aviation Director, Danny Murphy, said: “Our 2011 passenger numbers indicate that we need to continue our planning efforts to meet the demand as the economy bounces back. As one of the top ten airports in the country, our facilities must be ready to serve our passengers well.”
Those sentiments are certainly being reflected in the airport’s ongoing development. If you are standing outside one of its three terminal buildings, the most eye-catching project is the automated PHX Sky Train people mover. Due to enter service in January 2013, this free-to-use electrically-powered train will link the city’s regional light rail system, the airport’s largest car park – the East Economy Parking lot – and Terminal 4, which currently handles about 80% of passengers, on a 24/7 basis. Later phases of the PHX Sky Train’s development will link all three of the airport’s terminals (Terminals 2, 3 and 4; there isn’t a Terminal 1 at the moment) by early 2015 and the rail system will be complete when it connects to the airport’s massive Rental Car Center by 2020. The new asset is more than just a train though; it has its own baggage check-in services, boarding pass kiosks and even ‘pet parks’ for four-legged travellers at the stations. Trains will arrive and depart about every three to four minutes, depending on how quickly the doors are able to shut, and the journey time to East Economy Parking train station and Terminal 4 will be approximately two minutes. Architectural firm HOK is collaborating with Gannett Fleming, the prime engineer, on the PHX Sky Train’s design and three of its elevated passenger stations covering a total of 200,000sq ft (18,580m2). HOK was contracted for the complete architectural design and construction administration and maintains an overview of the design for the entire initial stage.
Though PHX Sky Harbor is owned and operated by the city of Phoenix, no tax dollars are being used to pay for its upgrade projects. All the required funds are generated from non-aviation revenue, such airport shops, restaurants, taxis, parking and rental cars. The next large project to take place indoors is the redevelopment of Terminal 4’s (T4) food and beverage outlets. T4 is home to US carriers Southwest, AirTran, US Airways and WestJet, as well as international airlines Aeromexico, Air Canada and British Airways.
The original T4 building opened in 1990 with five concourses and 48 gates but it was built with future growth in mind, providing enough space for up to eight concourses. Currently it has seven concourses and the eighth and last, to be located west of Concourse D, will be built when passenger numbers require it.
In the meantime, T4’s food and beverage facilities are in the process of being completely revitalised. The first-phase contract was won by HMS Host International last year. Some of the HMS Host restaurants are already open and all are due to be operational by the end of 2012. Now, following SSP America’s $800 million-dollar contract win in May this year, it will begin a ten-year second construction phase in January 2013. The five deciding factors for the contract were: food & beverage concepts; financial return to the city; management, marketing, operational plans and contracting arrangements; design quality of tenant improvements; and last but not least, qualifications and experience.
Whether the traveller wants to sit down for a bite to eat or purchase take-away items there will be widespread choice on offer on both sides of the security check as the new outlets open on a staged basis throughout next year.
This is SSP’s first project at Phoenix and in the State of Arizona, though it has worked at the relatively nearby (in US terms) San Diego, California, and Reno, Nevada. SSP told Airports International that it considers its work at Toronto Pearson to be the closest match to what the customer will see at Phoenix because both airports will showcase local food & beverage ‘talent’. Despite the fact that it already has business at more than 140 airports and over 250 rail stations, the contract was a ‘big win’ for SSP as it seeks to replicate its widespread European success in the North American market. To meet expectations its T4 portfolio includes 18 unique Phoenix area-based local businesses. The mix also incorporates five national brands that are deemed to be easily recognisable on the streets of Phoenix.
More good news for Phoenix came through as this edition went to press. On October 1, 2012, Sky Harbor announced it will receive a Federal Aviation Administration grant to fund an apron rehabilitation project near its busiest terminal. Coming from the FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP), a $16 million payment will allow the airport to begin the first phase of a project to replace 25-year-old paving outside Terminal 4. The work will begin this autumn and is expected to take about four years to complete. In recent years Sky Harbor has taken temporary measures to slow down the pavement’s deterioration in the area; now the grant will enable a permanent solution.
“We appreciate the support of the Federal Aviation Administration,” said Phoenix Aviation Director, Danny Murphy. “As one of the ten busiest airports in the United States, improvements like this are vital to us and our airline partners.”
SSP America’s Phoenix Portfolio
America’s Taco Shop: Home to the greatest ‘Carne Asada in the Valley’, owners America Corrales and her husband Terry are faithful to America’s mother’s recipes from Culiacán, Mexico.
Culver’s ButterBurgers & Frozen Custard: Home of the famous ButterBurger, Culver’s mantra has always been “Don’t mess with quality”. Recently named “Best Burger Chain in America”, Culver’s has eight locations in Phoenix and over 400 across the nation.
Cheuvront Restaurant & Wine Bar: Routinely voted one of the best wine bars in Phoenix, and recently recognised by Bon Appetit Magazine as one of the “50 Hottest Restaurants in the US”, Cheuvront offers an extensive wine list, artisan cheese selection plus a unique and eclectic menu.
Delux Burger: Nationally acclaimed gourmet burger bar owned by Lenny Rosenberg serves all-natural, Niman Ranch beef burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts.
Four Peaks Brewing Company: Jim Scussel and his partners deliver great local beer in a non-typical bar hangout.
Humble Pie: One of the great pizza companies of Phoenix serving ‘wood-fired’ pizzas with unique and traditional ingredients in an approachable setting.
Joe’s Real BBQ: Based in Gilbert, Arizona, Joe Johnston and Tim Peelen’s BBQ joint offers real food – barbecue slow cooked over pecan wood, and equally delicious side dishes and desserts.
Lola Coffee: Local artisan roaster, Daniel Wayne, serves freshly roasted organic coffees, latte art and in-house baked goods in a hip hangout with a fresh, modern vibe.
Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles: Owned by Larry ‘Lo-Lo’ White, who is the grandson of Mrs White, owner of Phoenix landmark Mrs White’s Golden Rule Café. Larry’s fried chicken and golden brown waffles are considered the best soul food in the valley.
Los Taquitos: Started as a home-grown Mexican food truck in downtown Phoenix in 1981 by the Ochoa family, the company’s success has been built on serving truly authentic, great tasting Mexican food using only the freshest ingredients.
Matt’s Big Breakfast: Owners Matt and Erenia Pool of the locally-owned and nationally-acclaimed restaurant believe that food is tastier when prepared simply with better ingredients.
MidCity Kitchen: Is the newest restaurant from Chef Michael DeMaria, committed to serving the freshest, most delicious food available, while meeting customers’ fast-paced lifestyle.
Nocawich: Is the dream of Eliot Wexler. NOCA, derived from ‘North of Camelback’ is the genesis for this award-winning sandwich sensation.
Panda Express: The United States’ leader in Chinese fast-casual restaurants. “Hot, fresh and ready when you are” – Panda Express is the perfect option for busy travellers.
Pei Wei: Nationally famous pan-Asian cuisine, serving delicious dishes from five cultures: China, Japan, Thailand, Korea and Vietnam.
Peet’s Coffee & Tea: Offers a superior and distinctive range of coffees brewed from the best beans from around the world as well as high-quality herbal, certified organic and rare teas.
Sweet Republic: Artisan ice cream, made with milk and cream from independent Arizona dairy farms, and hand-stirred using the finest, freshest, all-natural ingredients.
Tammie Coe Cakes: Tammie Coe’s signature cakes and pastries have a way of turning any moment into a joyous occasion.
Wendy’s: The world’s third largest hamburger fast food chain where founder Dave Thomas’ motto of “Quality is our recipe” is honoured daily by using select, premium ingredients and serving food that’s made fresh with every order.
Wildflower Bread Company: Owner Louis Basile’s Arizona breads are kneaded and shaped by hand using a San Francisco starter and a steam-infused baking process.
Yogurtology: Known to ‘yogurt connoisseurs’ throughout the Phoenix metro area, Yogurtology serves nutritious frozen yogurt and deliciously fresh toppings set in a self-serve environment.
Zinc Bistro: Named by Food and Wine Magazine as one of the ‘Top 10 Bistros in North America’, Phoenix-born Chef Matt Carter has created a taste of Paris in the Arizona desert.