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BWI Airport Puts Out Call For Developers To Reimagine 200K SF Retail Program

The state agency that operates Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport wants to reimagine its retail concessions.

The busiest airport serving the nation's capital is exploring redeveloping its retail offerings, and it is looking for partners to take on a long-term lease to do so.

The Maryland Aviation Administration released a request for proposals Tuesday seeking partners to take over, reimagine and redevelop the concessions program at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The new operator would finance and embark on a redevelopment of the retail package in the airport and manage more than 194K SF of leasable concessions space, according to the RFP. 

The airport administration laid out several priorities for the winner of the 20-year contract, including a commitment to diversity, economic development and local businesses, plus an updated design, a rebranded digital experience and a tenant mix that includes "retailtainment."

"The Administration aspires to upgrade and refocus the program to deploy the next generation of Airport concessions development," the RFP states. "The new Concessions Program resulting from this RFP should be recognized as offering the very best in design, retail, restaurants, passenger amenities, technology, and customer service, thus enhancing the passenger’s experience unlike any current or past retail concessions program."

The last time the concessions contract changed hands at BWI was in 2004. BAA, now a subsidiary of German firm Fraport, won that contract after the MAA looked for an operator that could give the post-security retail space more of a mall-like feel.

Since then, the airport has added more than 100K SF of concessions space as the total amount each passenger spends has increased. Its daily flight capacity has also grown, and the administration said BWI served more passengers than the other two area airports combined during the pandemic. 

The redevelopment occurs at the same time as other transportation hubs in the Baltimore-Washington region undergo a major pivot in an age of retail reckoning. 

Washington, D.C.'s Union Station is the site of a turf war between Amtrak and Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., with the federally owned train operator looking to take over the station's retail component to make infrastructure changes and reignite struggling sales.

Amtrak is also partnering with developers like Beatty Development Group and Cross Street Partners to remake Baltimore Penn StationCurrent plans there include multiple floors of office space, additional retail space and a neighboring residential building.

The region's two other airports are also anticipating infrastructure changes: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is anticipating new pedestrian connections from Arlington, Virginia's rapidly developing core, and the operator behind Washington Dulles International Airport is still waiting for the Silver Line Metrorail project to provide the airport with a public transit connection to D.C.

In addition to seeking a new operator, the airport is also embarking on two projects totaling half a billion dollars to renovate restrooms in its B, C and D concourses and adding nearly 43K SF of new retail, on top of renovating existing spaces in its A and B concourses.

Other changes to the retail program noted in the RFP include removing over 10K SF of pre-security concessions space for nonretail services and the exit of the airport's duty-free retailer, which a new applicant must replace.

In addition to operating leases in an airport that has approximately 139 retail locations, the RFP also asks applicants to reimagine its business development program, called LaunchPad.

Under the current concessions contract, LaunchPad evolved as a way for business owners to operate kiosks in the airport and then graduate to longer leases in "in-line locations" if successful. 

The airport is calling for applicants to "completely reimagine, rebrand and redevelop the LaunchPad program" to include partnerships with local higher education partners and nonprofits to help support the area's emergent business community.