Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport Retailer: Plan Still on Table

Impressed with the new terminal under construction, a leading airport retailer proposed spending $1.5 million on the food, drink and gift concessions with some local help.

Instead, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport has asked for $1.2 million in taxpayer funds to build out the concession space for the longtime airport restaurant operator.

How much of his own money Leo Vergnetti will use to complement the public funding has not been disclosed as the board of commissioners that operates the airport continues to negotiate a lease agreement with him.

Though no decision has formally been made, commissioners from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties said they plan to accept Vergnetti's proposal over the Hudson Group. No other firm has been publicly identified as having submitted a competing proposal.

"I respect that," said Joseph DiDomizio, an executive vice president with Hudson Group, of the airport's decision to go with Vergnetti of Scranton. Had Hudson been the incumbent like Vergnetti, it would expect the same treatment.

But DiDomizio said Thursday that he has not been notified that Hudson's proposal was rejected for Vergnetti's. "My proposal stands."

Nor could he confirm that the airport is building out the restaurant and bar area based on Hudson's proposal. Former assistant airport director and business manager Wy Gowell said the airport provided Hudson's proposal to Vergnetti.

DiDomizio recalled dealing with airport director Barry Centini and did not remember Gowell.

"I do't know that they shared my proposal," DiDomizio said.

If it did, the airport might have done so "to get a better deal with the incumbent" operator, he surmised.

Sharing proposals, however, is not a common practice within his business, DiDomizio acknowledged.

"A proposal is a piece of paper," he said. In someone else's hands it's worth little because that person or company cannot execute the plan as can Hudson.

Hudson proposed building an Aero Mart, its brand name convenience shop in the terminal's main concourse. The plans also included a Quiznos Sub and a railroad-themed Roundhouse bar in the main area. Travelers would be able to purchase a sandwich in Quiznos and take it into the bar. The total capital outlay for the concessions was approximately $1.5 million.

"I asked the airport to fund some of the investment," said DiDomizio, but he declined to say how much.

He also declined to provide a copy of Hudson's proposal, saying that should come from the airport. Calls to county solicitors requesting a copy of the proposal were not returned.

Last year Hudson made the proposal at the request of Centini, who had seen the company's setup at the Harrisburg International Airport. Harrisburg reached out to Hudson in the same way, DiDomizio noted.

The privately held company based in East Rutherford, N.J., prefers to do business in airports larger than Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Nationwide, Hudson operates in 54 airports such Boston Logan, Los Angeles International, Chicago O'Hare, Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley.

But DiDomizio was wowed by the new terminal. "He (Centini) impressed me with the amount of capital being spent."

Terminal construction costs are more than $35.4 million and do not include the build out for the restaurant/bar areas.

"I think what they?re doing at the airport is terrific," said DiDomizio.

To learn about the Hudson Group, visit its Web Site, www.hudsongroup.com

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