N.O. airport’s updates ready for Super Bowl

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The Louis Armstrong International Airport has undergone $300 million in renovations.  Work completed as of Tuesday inncludes: new ticket lobby, expanded concourse, updated baggage area, new exteriors, and new restaurants..Shown here is the lounge area adjoining Councorse D.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The Louis Armstrong International Airport has undergone $300 million in renovations. Work completed as of Tuesday inncludes: new ticket lobby, expanded concourse, updated baggage area, new exteriors, and new restaurants..Shown here is the lounge area adjoining Councorse D.

When visitors begin to arrive for Super Bowl XLVII, those who travel by air will be greeted with a new-look airport.

Officials Tuesday formally unveiled the results of a $300 million project that included upgrades to everything from the terminal, to the baggage claim area, to the concourses and restaurants and a new rental-car facility. The project was just one of many multimillion-dollar initiatives undertaken across the area in an effort to spruce up the city for the game.

“We gather here today to basically say we’re Super Bowl ready,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

Iftikhar Ahmad, the airport’s director of aviation, said his facility sorely needed the work, football game or not.

“I had never seen an airport like this before,” he said.

The $300 million price tag came in $50 million below what airport administrators initially thought they’d have to spend for the renovations and expansions, Ahmad said. The work was all paid for through airport fees and the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, he said.

Officials who attended Tuesday’s ceremony lauded the work, saying the airport, which is owned by the city but sits in Kenner in Jefferson Parish and in St. Charles Parish, is a regional economic engine that has never reached its full potential in its previous incarnation.

“This is a great success story, hopefully the first of many,” Jefferson Parish President John Young said. His thoughts were shared by Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre and St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom.

Ahmad said that with major aesthetics taken care of, work can begin on creating a new business model for the airport, including discussions about possibly building a new terminal.

Meanwhile, visitors will notice these upgrades:

Unique to Armstrong will be some of the restaurants people can choose from when looking for a meal. Among the options now are local institutions such as Dooky Chase and Ye Olde College Inn.

Matthew King, president of Delaware North Travel and Hospitality Services, which will manage the food concessions, said the challenge to find the right mix of restaurants was a challenge.

"People take food seriously in this town," he said.

While there were tens of millions pumped into the immediate visitors' experiences, several millions more was spent to upgrade behind-the-scenes functions and infrastructure.

Ahmad said that with 80 percent of all air travelers who land in the state moving through Armstrong, he and others expect the work to provide a new image that will pay dividends not just locally, but across Louisiana.

“If it works out for the airport, it works out for the state and region,” he said.