New a irport rental car facility near completion

Just a month after a contractor expressed doubt that a new rental car facility at the Louis Armstrong International Airport would be ready in time for February’s Super Bowl, the project is back on schedule, and officials expect it to be ready for business at least a week before the big game.

Last month, David Groh, of Aviation Resources Team, told several members of the New Orleans Aviation Board that it was unlikely the new consolidated rental car garage could be finished prior to the game because of disputes between the general contractor for the $95 million facility and the contractor hired by rental car companies to complete their individual offices. Iftikhar Ahmad, the airport’s aviation director, said he’d even heard a report that the rental car companies wouldn’t be finished with their part of the project for another 90 days.

That would have created chaos during the Super Bowl, potentially damaging the city’s reputation and chances of securing another Super Bowl.

But last week, Groh told board’s construction committee that after some intense conversations, the project is now expected to be completed by Jan. 23. He showed several slides of progress at the facility, and said rental car companies already are moving forward with construction of their ticket counters and adding signage.

After telling the board last month that the project was in danger because of poor communication, he now says the only concern is whether the weather will hold out long enough to get landscaping, grading and sidewalks completed at the facility. However, he said that some of that work will be done off-site and then assembled at the facility.

“Even though the weather wasn’t cooperating as much as we wanted over the last few weeks, they’re moving ahead,” Groh said. “All is going well with the facility … Everybody’s on the same page, they understand what the goal is.”

In fact, most of the projects designed to the give the airport a facelift in preparation for the Super Bowl are nearing completion. Improvements to Terminal IV, the main terminal, include new LED lighting, ceiling fixtures and furniture. The airport also added new carpeting, terrazzo flooring and serviced its escalators. All of those projects are expected to be done before the game, and board member Nolan Rollins said the airport already looks like a new facility.

“I came in the other night, and I couldn’t remember where I was,” Rollins noted.

But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t some speed bumps in the process. One of the proposals presented to the construction committee was a more than $352,000 payment to Coover Clark & Associates Inc. of Denver for engineering and architectural work at a utility building for the rental car facility. Committee member Roger Ogden said those costs seemed out of line with the amount of work associated with finishing that building. He also expressed concern that the estimate included roughly 800 hours of work between two of the company’s employees in only a few months time.

“I mean, this is not a complicated building. What’s in it is complicated, but the building is not,” Ogden said.

Ogden noted that most of the review should have been included in the company’s original contract for the project. He didn’t understand why the new costs were so hefty and said it seemed like a continuation of past practices, where companies tried to get as much money as possible out of the airport.

“They’re not doing anything new, they’re just doing it later,” Ogden said. “That’s what we’re trying to stop, this practice and this culture … The culture around here of just everybody coming with their hand out and changing a contract has got to cease.”

Groh acknowledged that it was a hefty price tag but said the company must monitor the installation of all of the equipment in the utility building. Rollins noted that the estimate is a “not to exceed” amount, and that means that with efficiency the airport could likely save money. He supported having the company come to the full board meeting and explain the costs.

“I’m actually interested in how much work they’ll have to do on something that’s this far gone,” Rollins said. “What will you all do to ensure that we’re getting the maximum bang for the buck that we’re putting out?”