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S.L. airport’s not just for fliers

New restaurants, shops will make it more attractive

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Salt Lake City International Airport isn't just for catching planes anymore.

Airport officials hope a year-long reconfiguration of retail space, including extensive remodeling and the addition of new stores and restaurants, will make passengers and greeters want to stop, shop and eat.

Between now and Christmas, 10 new stores will open their doors in the airport's terminals and concourses. And Dick Clark's American Bandstand Grill, already opened, will have its official grand opening Dec. 4 with a visit from Dick Clark himself.

"The face of retailing in airports has changed in the last five to 10 years," said John Buckner, commercial manager for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.

That trend partly has been due to HMShost, which manages food and retail businesses in airports across the country, including the majority of the food service at Salt Lake City International.

"There is a huge change in viewpoint," Les Cappetta, senior vice president of North American development for HMShost, said of the way passengers now see airport-based businesses.

"Consumers have become more accustomed to the shopping options in airports. They are looking for value and value is very different from price alone. It's a function of the brands that people know and products that are meaningful to them."

By the time the last of the new and remodeled shops opens in April, the airport's concessionaires will offer a much larger variety than before and prices will be more in line with elsewhere in the Salt Lake Valley. The airport has required that all retailers, restaurants and food stands keep their prices no more than 10 percent higher than what the same product would sell for in a non-airport location. Previously, the ceiling was set at 20 percent.

Some of the new shops are the first of their kind in Utah: Dick Clark's, Great American Bagel & Bakery, The Grove Natural Snacks, California Pizza Kitchen, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and the Wall Street Deli.

Expected to open by the end of November are the Salt Lake Emporium and the Crosby Collection, a Park City-based jewelry, arts and crafts store.

Coming in December: West of Brooklyn, Simply Books, Wilson's leather products, Sporting Eyes sunglasses, two Daily News newsstands, Fossil watches, sunglasses and gifts, and an Olympic products store called Medals.

Roots, a Canadian apparel and gift shop, is scheduled to open Jan. 15 and West of Brooklyn should open by April 15.

"We need to make sure we are taking care of a very diverse group of travelers because you have your high-end customers and your family on a budget," Cappetta said.

There will be more of a local feel, too. In renegotiating their agreement with HMShost, which also manages some of the retail shops, airport officials made sure there was room for local businesses like Wasatch Brewery, Squatters, Granato's Italian Deli, Salt Lake Emporium, Utah Ski and Golf, the Crosby Collection and others.

"Airports have been described as the most used of all public facilities," Buckner said. "And we wanted to reflect some of what is great about Salt Lake City and meet the needs of people who don't know much about Salt Lake."

The airport staff reorganized some of the terminal and concourse space to create more room for business. Many stores are clustered together with the same grid strategy employed in many malls. But don't confuse Salt Lake International with Crossroads or Fashion Place.

"We are not creating a mall here," said Russ Pack, the airport's deputy director in charge of finance and administration. "Our focus primarily is: What would the traveling public be looking for? Their time is limited. Their ability to carry things is limited."

If the merchants do well, the airport will receive increased revenues from rents, meaning it can charge its airlines less to maintain and expand the airport.

The new contract with HMShost will expire in 2006, when it was originally anticipated that the existing terminals would be vacated in favor of a brand new terminal building. But with expansion plans on hold and under review, the existing facilities likely will be in use through 2008 and perhaps beyond.

E-MAIL: zman@desnews.com