Taxiways at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are about the only place on the airfield where passengers won’t see any sign of construction.
The lobby in Terminal 4, the airport’s busiest with 77 percent of its passengers, is poised for a three-year makeover that will increase the number of shops and restaurants.
Within two weeks in the same terminal, a roof will be placed on a new eight-gate Southwest Airlines concourse, work that will take place over already restricted terminal roads.
Last week the airport began switching out huge escalators in Terminal 3, a task that requires a crane to lift them out in sections.
While there are a few walls up already, passengers will see major changes in mid-August when the $26 million effort to remodel the retail and restaurant area of Terminal 4 really begins to take shape. More than two dozen shops and a a wider variety of eateries are expected.
Out will be dark lighting, lower ceilings, carpet and corners that prevent passengers from seeing down the 14-year-old terminal. In will be airy, bright spaces, tile and colors to reflect the state’s natural beauty and Southwestern heritage.
The changes will be made in phases as contracts with current vendors expire. The first new shops will open in the spring.
"Times have changed, desires have changed and styles have changed," said Deborah Ostreicher, Sky Harbor spokeswoman. "People are looking for different things than they were then. It’s commensurate with what you’re seeing at other airports around the country. We’re looking to be a leader as well in making passengers as comfortable as possible."
Level 3 of the terminal will look like a lot like a shopping mall once the project is complete in 2007. New kiosks will be added to give opportunities to smaller businesses, Ostreicher said.
The airport surveyed passengers to determine what services they wanted. Many asked for Asian food in addition to more low-calorie, healthy options, officials said. They also wanted a name -brand bookstore, health and nonprescription drugs, sundries and greeting cards.
Upscale items like fashion leather, resort wear and a golf merchandise store also will be added.
When the retail areas of Terminals 2 and 3 were remodeled in late 1990s, Sky Harbor found passengers more willing to spend money.
Before Terminal 3 was redone in 1998, officials said passengers spent just under $2 each at the airport. After the remodel, Ostreicher said it increased to $4.86 per passenger.
Last year, passengers in Terminal 4 spent on average just under $2 on food and merchandise. "We think that number will higher and with more choices and a new atmosphere," Ostreicher said.
In the next two weeks, workers will put a roof on a a new $50 million concourse at Terminal 4. The terminal was designed for eight concourses and has four on its north side and two on on its south.
The new concourse will be built on the south side and allow Southwest to move all its operations to that side of the terminal. The four concourses to the north will be used by America West or other airlines. The terminal will open in next year.
Construction over the terminal roadway has narrowed lanes and reduced speeds. Once the roof goes up, driver curiosity could create more problems, Ostreicher said.
Last week workers began replacing four giant escalators, which were once the largest in the state. They were installed in Terminal 3 in 1979.
"This is probably the first time that escalators of this size and magnitude have been replaced in an open, operating airport," said Jim Schroeder, aviation superintendent for facilities and services.
Before the removal could begin, workers had to design and build a steel structure over the escalator bank. They suspended chains from the structure to hoist large portions of the old escalators. The 90-foot escalators are cut into three pieces.
To minimize the impact on travelers, the escalators are being removed and replaced in phases. Visitors will continue to have access to escalators during the course of the project. To further reduce inconvenience, the escalator work is being done at night, in offpeak hours. The project will be completed by November.