Friday, December 30, 2011

Improve airport concessions: An editorial. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (KMSY), Louisiana.

By Editorial staff, The Times-Picayune

Tourists visiting New Orleans expect to have an unmatched culinary experience in a city known for its food, but concessions at Louis Armstrong International Airport don't begin to live up to New Orleans' reputation. They don't even measure up to what's available at other airports, most of which feature major national brands. Louis Armstrong International has only one nationally known brand and doesn't offer much in the way of well-known local eateries.

The New Orleans Aviation Board recognizes that the offerings fall short and has been pushing its concessions contractor, Delaware North, to improve them. Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad said he wants changes to be in place by the time New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl in 2013.

He's right to make that link. A Super Bowl is a high-profile event that brings the eyes of the world to a city, and the airport makes an important first impression. Outdated storefronts and generic food deliver the opposite of what New Orleans should be showing tourists.

Delaware North's contract is up in 2014 -- well after Super Bowl XLVII. But even though contract extension negotiations provide an opportunity to press for changes, the Aviation Board isn't working from a strong position. Its contract with Delaware North provides for a five-year extension that the Aviation Board can't deny unless the company violates the terms of its 2004 contract. The other option, buying the company out, would be expensive.

There's also a time factor, considering that the Super Bowl is 13 months away and redesign and construction work that the board wants will take about six months.

The situation is all the more frustrating since Delaware North only recently took steps to cut ties with Pampy's Inc. The contractor said that Stan "Pampy'' Barre was running the company from prison. That violated a 2009 agreement that allowed Pampy's Inc. to remain in the airport contract as long as Mr. Barre was not involved in running it. He was sentenced to prison for swindling more than $1 million from a Marc Morial-era energy-efficiency contract.

Aviation Board negotiators have rejected at least six proposals from Delaware North since February. Public documents obtained by The Times-Picayune show that the Aviation Board has been disappointed by the lack of national brands that Delaware North has brought forward. Those documents also show that board members are unhappy with how much the contractor wants to charge travelers and the share of capital-improvement costs it has proposed passing on to taxpayers.

One proposal would have required the airport to spend up to $14.5 million to buy out vendors and pay Delaware North back for earlier investments.

Mr. Ahmad says that the airport wants lower prices, better customer service and longer hours before it will accept a deal, and those are all important factors. So is having airport food that's an asset to the city instead of an embarrassment.

If the Aviation Board can't get that from Delaware North, a buyout might be the more palatable option.

No comments:

Post a Comment