Dazzling makeover Charleston airport shows off renovations; more dining, shops to arrive in summer

The Central Hall at Charleston International Airport is completed except for vendors which will flank the back glass wall in the passengers-only part of the terminal. The massive overhaul added 50 percent to the building’s footprint.

Michael Countryman and his wife Elaine couldn’t say enough good things about Charleston International Airport after officials showed off the nearly finished public areas Monday as part of the $200 million makeover of the terminal.

“It’s really nice,” the couple said while waiting for a departing flight home to Michigan after spending a weekend vacationing in the Holy City.

They particularly liked the ease of parking, electrical outlets in the waiting-area chairs and work stations set up near the gates.

“You can get in and out relatively quickly,” said Brian Johnson of Baltimore, who was headed home with his wife, Caitlin, after getting married in Charleston over the weekend.

“The security was very pleasant,” his wife said. “People are more friendly down South.”

Adam Kornreich of New York City, on his way home after performing as a guitarist in the Broadway show “A Night with Janis Joplin” at the Gaillard Center on Sunday, never saw the airport before the face-lift and expansion, but he called it “very clean” and easy to navigate.

“Everyone was super-friendly,” he said. “It’s great.”

Three and a half years after the first shovel of earth was turned on the massive overhaul that added 50 percent to the building’s footprint, construction is set to wrap up by midsummer.

The project, not expected to be finished behind the scenes and for the Central Hall concessionaires until July, originally was set to be completed last August at a cost of $189 million.

The discovery of asbestos in some walls during the overhaul, the late addition of a skylight on the right-wing concourse and other changes to the initial work plan pushed the project’s cost up and delayed completion by several months.

The only parts in the public areas that remain to be completed are bathrooms near the baggage claim and the addition of vendors.

The new concessionaires are expected to add more than 100 employees once their new shops are completed in about three months.

Food-services provider Delaware North will spend $8 million to build its bars and restaurants and double its airport workforce to 150, according to spokesman Greg Leonard.

Meanwhile, retail services provider Hudson Group will lay out about $5 million on its concessionaires and hire another 30 employees, said Renee Davis, general manager. It now employs 30 workers at the airport.

“We are starting to look for people now,” Davis said. “Hopefully, by July we will be open and ready to go.”

Hudson Group will add an Eddie Bauer shop of travel-related items and a Tech on the Go store of electronic accessory items, such as headphones and phone chargers.

On the food side, Leonard said Burger King will open first, followed by Caviar & Bananas, Harvest and Grounds Bakery and Coffee, and Jack Nicklaus Golden Bear Grill.

“It would be too much to open them all at once,” Leonard said. All should open in July.

Golf great Nicklaus is expected to attend the grand opening of his signature restaurant and bar in a 3,000-square-foot space.

All of the new vendors will operate on the passenger-only side of the airport, meaning only those who have passed through security will have access. The airport offers other coffee and retail shops in unrestricted areas.

Bars and restaurants on the airport’s two wings are completed except for Charleston Beer Works on Concourse A, which will open in October.

“It’s winding up,” said Paul Campbell, CEO of Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees the state’s busiest airport. “I’m hoping by the end of the week we will have the entire concourse area open.”

Campbell pointed out the airport never missed a flight during construction while shepherding 3.4 million passengers last year, a number that’s expected to swell to 4 million in just a few years.

“We are no longer a small-town airport,” Campbell said.

As more people come to Charleston for business or pleasure, Campbell wants the airport to be the welcome mat.

“We want to be their first experience in Charleston and the last experience when they leave,” he said.

“Doesn’t it give you a great vista when you look out over the airfield?” Campbell asked, as he glanced through the floor-to-ceiling glass panels along the terminal’s back wall.

The completed part of the 31-year-old terminal includes five new gates for a total of 15, a third baggage carousel, consolidated security checkpoint, rental car pavilion, new administrative offices, a dome in the Central Hall, new jet bridges, new energy plant, a facade makeover, new concessionaires, lots of glass throughout the terminal to allow in more light and other improvements.

A two-day rededication ceremony is planned with public and private receptions, but no date has been set.

That’s when artwork will be added, and the new logo will be unveiled.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.