Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport's Eatery Plan Gets Harrisburg Defender

PITTSTON TWP. - The Harrisburg International Airport built a restaurant and bar area for a tenant to move into, similar to what the local airport board is considering.

Alfred Testa Jr., aviation director at Harrisburg, said the path Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport plans to follow is "not abnormal."

Harrisburg spent approximately $1.1 million to construct a shell in its new terminal for a concessionaire, Testa said on Tuesday. The airport entered a lease with Anton Airfood Inc. for the bar and restaurant operations.

Larger airports with millions of passengers passing through annually can attract restaurants to come in and build at their own expense, Testa said. The huge passenger volume is a guaranteed source of income, he added.

Smaller facilities have to take it upon themselves to build the space and work with a concessionaire on lease and design for the restaurant, he explained.

Harrisburg expects to have approximately 700,000 people boarding planes this year, Testa said. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is on pace to exceed last year's enplanement level of nearly 202,000.

Locally, the board of commissioners from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties that operates the airport, plans to spend $1.2 million in taxpayer money to build a restaurant/bar and news/gift shop area in the new terminal under construction.

The board intends to let the current restaurant operator, Leo Vergnetti, move into the new space. It has been negotiating a lease in private with Vergnetti of Scranton, who is getting the sole shot at the restaurant concession because of his long-standing relationship with the airport.

At least one other company with a proven track record as an airport concessionaire showed an interest in working with the airport in the new terminal, acknowledged airport board chairman and Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid.

He said the Hudson Group "submitted a concept proposal."

A spokeswoman for the East Rutherford, N.J.-based company said officials were traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

But former assistant airport director and business manager Wy Gowell said the airport is using Hudson?s proposal for the restaurant area.

"The airport is building it to that standard," said Gowell who resigned last year after 16 years at the airport.

Hudson's people met with the airport administration at least twice last year, he said. The proposal and drawings they presented were passed on to Vergnetti, Gowell said.

A message left Tuesday morning for Vergnetti at the airport restaurant was not immediately returned.

Airport Director Barry Centini declined to comment on the airport's restaurant plans.

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