Unveiling At Indianapolis

$1.1 billion midfield terminal set to open; to the community, it’s a new airport


INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Airport Authority is spending a significant sum on a marketing push to educate the populace about the opening of its new midfield terminal on November 12. The theme: New airport; new address; new experience. In fact, it is the same airfield, but everything else about the customer experience is about to change — entry, exit, retail and concessions, even aircraft taxiing times. And a parking garage that includes a rental car level and three times the number of spaces as the existing garage, which is all too often full. Comments executive director John Kish, “I think the people who use it will have a new image of Indianapolis, and that’s really what we had hoped would happen.”

As the word midfield implies, the new terminal complex is situated remotely from the existing terminal, and thus required completely new access infrastructure, relocating the entry road from one Interstate highway to another. “It is a huge communication issue,” explains Kish. “The old airport was reached by driving on Airport Expressway, so we needed to rename the road, which we did.

“We just need to change habits; we’re spending more than half a million dollars on billboards, TV ads, and newspaper ads to tell people that we’ve moved. Take I-70 five minutes west of I-465 to exit 68 and the new Indianapolis airport.

“It’s just different. The retail opportunities are substantially different; better. We have probably twice as much space devoted to concessions. Today, rental cars are served by shuttles.”

It is the customer experience that has been central to the plan for the seven-year project. It will change customer habits, while also making the experience much more streamlined, according to Kish. He points to expanding the new parking garage as one example.

“The thing you never want to happen is happening today at the existing parking garage, which is waving people away on busy days,” he says. “When that happens, we have some very unhappy passengers. You never want to have the garage hit capacity. It is fundamentally more prudent to build now on a green field site and not be dodging operations, than it would be to build in five years.

“We tried to put the passenger convenience first and said, we’re not sure who really enjoys the shuttle bus experience. So, why don’t we just put the rental cars here where they can walk to the rental car and be on their way? The visitor to Indianapolis will remember that from the time he lands, walks off his plane, to the time he’s pulling into a parking space downtown, it can be less than half an hour.”

Kish relates that the original plan for the new garage was to make it 150 percent larger than the existing facility, and it was expected to top out within three years of the midfield opening. “That didn’t seem reasonable,” he says, “let’s just build a bigger one today. We showed the airlines the economics, that the thing would pay for itself. They agreed; so we went with the bigger parking garage and added $50 million to the budget to do so, and projected a 40 percent increase in parking revenues.”

Meanwhile, the airport board recently approved a daily fee of $16 in the new garage, a drop from the $22 paid today in the old garage. “Our studies indicate that the people leaving Indianapolis enjoy the convenience of walking to the terminal from the parking garage; we want to give more people that option,” says Kish.

While one might expect that a $1.1 billion new terminal in a city the size of Indianapolis would be extremely high profile, it hasn’t been, according to Kish, and thus the need for the educational effort. Its visibility in the community has been dwarfed locally with that of a new football stadium for the Indianapolis Colts NFL team.

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