Airport revamp awarded
A team led by a Dallas construction company won the $150 million contract Thursday to oversee the expansion and renovation of the aging terminal at Charleston International Airport over the next three years.
But not everyone's on board with some of the proposed changes to the building.
The Charleston County Aviation Authority voted unanimously to award the job to Austin Commercial LP and its partner, Hitt Contracting Inc.
The other bidders, Holder Construction Co. of Atlanta and its partners Mashburn Construction Co. of Mount Pleasant and Cumming-SMG of North Charleston, were named the backup in case a problem develops with Austin and Hitt.
Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse said the board determined that the Austin-Hitt team "had a little more experience in building airports."
In its final presentation to the board before the vote, Austin Commercial showed examples of its work that included airports in Miami, Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nashville and Sacramento.
"We put together a team that has a wealth of aviation experience," said Jim Hall of Austin Commercial. "This is what we do."
Hitt Contracting was elated with the decision as well.
"We're pleased to be part of something that's going to have a huge economic impact on the community," said Carson Knizevski, senior vice president.
The expansion will allow the airport to handle more aircraft by adding gates and roughly double its capacity to about 4.4 million passengers.
The Austin-Hitt group will begin work later this year on the overhaul of the 27-year-old terminal.
The latest design plans included some drastic changes from previous proposals.
Perhaps one of the biggest will be the flow of foot traffic.
Instead of checking in and heading to the two boarding wings through the middle the terminal, passengers would check in and then immediately pass through a new screening area behind the airline ticket counters. From there, they would proceed to the gates. Almost all vendors and restaurants would be moved inside the new secured zone.
The central section of the building could totally change. The offices on the second floor overlooking the lobby would be dismantled and moved. A 25-foot, floor-to-ceiling glass window would rest along the back wall, providing a view from the main entry straight through to the airfield.
One point of contention is that passengers and visitors would no longer be able to walk all the way through the atrium as they can now. It will be divided by a glass wall.
The idea did not sit well with Limehouse.
"The atrium is being cut in half, and that is not my vision," he said. "I'm not happy with what we are doing. I don't want to waste all that money to cut out the roof if it's going to cut the area in half. We are taking this beautiful space and cutting it in half."
Board member Hernan Pena agreed, saying, "I'm having trouble with that too."
Airports director Sue Stevens said the changes are meant to enhance security.
"That's the world we live in," Stevens said.
The local head of the Transportation Security Administration embraced the changes.
"They are looking forward to what security is going to be like in the future," said Debbie Engel, federal security director for Charleston and Myrtle Beach airports. "It's not only for customers and tenants but also for security and TSA needs."
Fentress Architects, a Denver-based firm that is designing the terminal makeover, is expected to return April 10 with revisions to its proposal.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.