Colorado Springs Airport is breaking from a cookie-cutter mold of airport offerings and putting an authentic Colorado stamp on the atmosphere, right down to its coffee and beer.
Bristol Brewing Company will open a smaller version of its taproom in the airport terminal this month. Novo Coffee, a Denver-based coffee company, opened its doors in December.
The two new restaurants are part of a $22.6 million terminal improvement program to help the airport become more customer-friendly and make a statement about Colorado Springs and its offerings to the 2 million passengers coming and going each year through the airport, said Mark Earle, Colorado Springs Airport aviation director.
“Over the past several years, we have worked to create an atmosphere in our terminal building that is inviting and more representative of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region,” Earle said.
Besides the construction, the airport has been adding graphic images and murals throughout the airport that show off the Springs’ assets, including its outdoor activities, the U.S. Air Force Academy and its ties to the Olympic movement.
“It’s all part of our gateway concept,” Earle said. “We identified major icons that say a lot about the community and we wanted to incorporate those elements.”
In recent months, crews have installed a more advanced checked-baggage inspection system, expanded the security screening checkpoint and redesigned the concession area at the top of the escalator, before the security checkpoint.
The airport’s terminal improvement program has been a decade in the making. When Earle arrived as director 10 years ago, the staff identified some key trouble spots — the lines to get through security were too cramped and would back up into the center lounge area; the road and parking lot had not been paved in 15 years; there were security issues at the entry and exit of the parking lot; and the Transportation Security Administration wanted to bring in new screening technology, which would require more space.
Despite a long list of projects, the airport did not want to go into debt over it, Earle said. The airport has a $22 million annual operations budget and a $15 to $20 million capital improvement program fund.
Earle set up a two-phased plan and paid for the terminal improvements as they went. The first phase — paving the parking lot and the roadway to the terminal, adding new carpet, seating and expanding the core building — got started in 2005 and completed in 2007. It was a $25 million project using airport funds, TSA funds and Federal Highway Administration funds, Earle said.
In the second phase of the project, which began this year, both sides of the security checkpoint have been widened by 1,800 square feet to give people more room going through the security lines and more room on the other side to get themselves back together, Earle said. The additional space also makes room for the three body-imaging scanners coming to the airport in 2013.
Crews also finished installing an automated baggage scanning system, which means fewer bags will have to be opened, making the process faster and less invasive, Earle said.
In airports, timing and logistics are everything, Earle said. So when he started planning the construction work for the second phase of the airport renovation he began talks with SSP America, the international food vendor that runs the restaurants and coffee shops in the airport.
“We saw the opportunity when we were planning phase two to bring in local concepts that would really add to the atmosphere and add to the feel of being in Colorado,” Earle said.
That’s when Mike Bristol, owner of Bristol Brewing Company, got a call about selling his beer in the airport. He was skeptical, he said. He didn’t want SSP America to take down the sign for Gordon Biersch, a California-based brewing company that had been in the local airport, and simply put up his sign.
“I have been to airports, you see a name, but there is no character of the brand,” Bristol said.
SSP America, which is a division of the UK-based SSP Group, has a business model that says each of the 40 airport food courts it runs in the U.S. ought to be high-end and representative of the local environment, said Tom Waldon, SSP America senior director of business development.
“We don’t really franchise,” he said. “Our preferred model is to find the best of the best … and give the local restaurant an opportunity to partner with us and to own and operate the business with us.”
SSP America spent $315,000 to renovate the area for Novo Coffee and Bristol Brewing. Novo Coffee and Bristol replace a bar and an A&W restaurant. SSP America also has plans to revamp the restaurants and food offerings on the other side of the security checkpoint, Waldon said. That work, he said, could begin in 2013.
Both new restaurants are designed with the materials and colors schemes of their original shops. Bristol Brewing will even feature a 22-foot-long shuffleboard, which is one of the original Bristol Brewing taproom’s iconic games. The coffee shop and brewery are located so that patrons inside can see everyone exiting the terminal.
“It’s a partnership,” Bristol said. “They have the benefit of having a strong local brand in the airport, which for Colorado Springs is a great thing … we get an opportunity to reinforce our brand to people who walk down that aisle.
“We think it’s important — we feel we are part of the Colorado Springs landscape.”
Bristol is finalizing the food menu but says the offerings will be a beer-centric menu using local ingredients.
Phase two of the terminal improvement plan should be completed by February, Earle said.
“We took a building, it was nice with a modern terminal look, and did everything to give it a feel of Colorado,” Earle said. “Airports are gateways — you want to have some type of impression of what the city is all about. We had an opportunity to bring that feel, to say something about who we are.”