Old airports get fresh new uses

My “At the Airport” column for USATODAY this month is all about some cool, new uses for old, unused airports.

A while back I visited Quito, Ecuador with JetBlue and learned that when the modern Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador opened for business in 2013, on land 11 miles east of city, the old in-city airport (which once held a spot on the list of “World’s Most Dangerous Airports”) was transformed into Bicentennial Park.

Terminal buildings now host office space, a convention center is being built onsite, former runways are used for bicycle riding and racing, and large concerts and events, including a July 2015 mass led by Pope Francis, are held in the fields.

Denver’s Stapleton International Airport, less than 10 miles from downtown Denver, was replaced in February, 1995 by the much larger Denver International Airport, which was built 25 miles from the city center. The 7.5 square miles that once housed Stapleton’s runways and terminals is now a mixed-use community that John Karsada, author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next,” considers “The most successful repurposing of a former major commercial airport I have observed anywhere in the world.”

Most all the original structures from the former Stapleton airfield were demolished, but the control tower and its building remained. And this month, after sitting vacant for more than 20 years, the tower building reopened as a 32,000 square-foot “eatertainment” concept with six bowling lanes, shuffle board, bocce courts, karaoke rooms, a sports bar and a wide variety of other indoor and outdoor dining, drinking and social gaming opportunities.

“Dozens of ideas for re-use of the tower were presented over the years, including demolition, but there was a desire in the community to preserve the tower in order to visually convey the history of the land as the former Denver airport,” said Robert Thompson, found and CEO of Punch Bowl Social, the company that turned the control tower building into a fun zone.

It would have been easier for Punch Bowl Social to demolish the old building and create something from scratch. Instead they were able to preserve the historic structure, re-using some of the original pre-cast panels that adorned the building exterior. Inside, there are plenty of nods to the golden age of flight.

“The hostess stand is made from a vintage steamer trunk. Reclaimed airplane dials are mounted on the walls, vintage luggage is stacked in shelving around the bowling cage and we have signage from the original Stapleton International Airport throughout,” said Thompson.

And while the interior walls are covered with what appears to be polka dot paper, the pattern is actually made from an aerial view of Stapleton from 30,000 feet up.

“The air traffic control tower is the most visible and iconic representation of the history of this area,” said Denver City Councilman Christopher Herndon, whose district includes Stapleton, “The Punch Bowl Social project embodies the spirit of re-imagination and reactivation Denver embraced when we envisioned a vibrant neighborhood filling the footprint of the former Stapleton airport.”

Creative airport re-use in Austin, Berlin, New York and Hong Kong


The 700-acre Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, which sat just three miles from downtown Austin, Texas was replaced in 1999 by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, about 10 miles from the city center.

Today, the former Mueller airport site, like Stapleton, is a mixed used community with homes, retail and office space, parks and public art. A farmer’s market is held in the historic 1943 Browning Hangar, the former aviation administration building houses a visitor/welcome center for the community, and Mueller’s historic airport blue-hued control tower remains as well.

In New York, Floyd Bennett Field (Named for Floyd Bennett, the first person to fly over the North Pole, and the site of the city’s first municipal airport) is now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area on Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. And historic Hangar B, on the east side of the field, now serves as a restoration and exhibition space for vintage aircraft.

After Berlin-Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008, much of the land was slated for housing and commercial development, but today the giant terminal and hangars remain in use as grand event and concert venues and homes for small businesses. And the vast open spaces are being used by the community for cycling, jogging, running, dog-walking, kite flying, gardening and more.

Flying to cruising

One of the most creative airport re-use projects has been the upcycling of Hong Kong’s in-city airport, Kai Tak, into a cruise terminal.

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, known for the quick-turn flight approach into the city that inspired both nail-biting and awe, closed in 1998 and was replaced by a far larger Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok Island.

Hong Kong’s cruise ship market was growing, so the government decided to turn the former airport into a cruise terminal.

British architectural design and engineering firm Foster + Partners won the international competition to design the project and the first cruise ship berthed at what has now become a landmark site in the city in June 2013.

And because cruise terminals have plenty of downtime, the building was designed as a column free space to accommodate other uses such as car shows, exhibition, concerts and other events.

There’s even a public garden on the roof.

And what will become of other airports that become unused or superfluous in the future?

Already, “Airports often figure in zombie movies as places of last stands or lethal transmission,” notes Christopher Schaberg, author of “Airportness” and an associate professor of English and Environmental Studies at Loyola University New Orleans.

And while there have been some successful attempts to rethink the airport as a different sort of space, Schaberg says “Airports are sites to watch closely as humans continue to run into new limits and challenges in the coming years.”



Preview of new satellite terminal at LAX

The Tom Bradley International Termional at Los Angeles International Airport is pretty swank and awfully big.

But it’s not big enough. So LAX is buildling a bonus Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) with 12 extra gates just west of the terminal.

Scheduled to open in early 2020, the new terminal – or MSC – will be connected to the Tom Bradley International Terminal by both a 1,000-foot passenger tunnel with moving walkway and a bus port to allow transportation on the airfield from other terminals.

Here’s a short video LAX shared.


Got a passport? 60 percent of Americans don’t!

Happy Friday! Get your passport and get going.

Passports. Have one? If not, you’re not alone.

About 60 percent of Americans don’t have current passports and Hilton Hotels is doing its part to help potential international travelers get going.

Hilton is kicking off its Hilton Passport Project with a Passport Concierge booth in the American Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport from October 20 to 22.

At the Passport Concierge booth, travelers will have the opportunity to fill out their passport applications, get their questions answered by on-site U.S. Department of State experts and take passport photos and get some ideas about international destinations.

The booth will move on to the Hilton San Francisco Union Square from November 2 to 4 and to the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from November 9 to 11.

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Fresh solar system themed art at St. Louis Airport

Courtesy STL AIrport

A fresh new piece of art at St. Louis Lambert International Airport explores and celebrates the mysteries of the solar system.

Created by artist Eric Woods, owner and founder of The Firecracker Press, The Solar System Series, is on  display at STL near the Terminal 1 A Gates entrance/exit.

This multi-paneled work is letterpress printed on paper, from hand-carved woodcuts and other recycled materials, including cardboard and vinyl siding. Each panel was printed individually and then pieced together and mounted on wood.

Hidden in the piece are all sorts of “Easter eggs” to look for, including the Starship Enterprise and a lost satellite.

Like the looks of this artwork? On the Firecracker Press website I see that they sell Solar System Prints (Gemini is my favorite), posters, journals, cards and more.

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Fliers love Orlando Int’l Airport – and other new rankings

This year Orlando International Airport (MCO) gets top ranking for satisfaction among the “mega” airports in J.D. Power’s 2017 North America Airport Satisfaction Study.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) came in second and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas ranked third, with scores of 778, 767 and 765,  respectively, out of a possible score of 1000.

Among large airports, John Wayne Airport in Orange County topped the list with a score of 796, followed by Tampa International Airport (795) and Dallas Love Field (790).

Sacramento International Airport got the highest marks among the medium airports (810), followed by Indianapolis International Airport (807), and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (806).

The study, one of several ‘biggies’ that come out each year, ranks traveler satisfaction with mega, large, and medium North American airports by weighin six factors (in order of importance): terminal facilities; airport accessibility; security check; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; food, beverage and retail.

J.D. Power notes that ratings are up 18 points overall compared to last year’s all-time high, due to a 25-point increase in satisfaction with security checks (thanks to a drop in TSA staffing issues) and more satisfaction with check-in/baggage check (+19 points) and food, beverage, and retail (+15 points).  Self-service bag-check kiosks and other bag-tagging technologies got credit for raising satisfaction with the baggage check process.

Here are the Top 10 airports in each category:

“Mega” airports:

  1. Orlando International Airport
  2. Detroit Metroplitan International Airport
  3. McCarran International Airport
  4. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  5. Denver International Airport
  6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport
  7. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
  8. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
  9. San Francisco Internaitonal Airport
  10. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Large Airports

  1. John Wayne Airport
  2. Tampa International Airport
  3. Dallas Love Field
  4. Nashville International Airport
  5. Portland International Airport
  6. Willliam P. Hobby Airport (Houston)
  7. San Diego International Airport
  8. Reagan National Airport
  9. Salt Lake City International Airport
  10. Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport

Medium Airports

  1. Sacramento International Airport
  2. Indianpolis International Airport
  3. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
  4. Jacksonville International Airport
  5. Palm Beach International Airport
  6. Southwest Florida International Airport
  7. Pittsburgh International Airport
  8. Raleigh-Durham International Airport
  9. Buffalo Niagara International Airport
  10. Ontario International Airport

You can see the full lists and the scoring here.