When Delta Air Lines decided in 2013 that it would no longer use Memphis as a hub, it could have been disastrous for Memphis International Airport. However, Scott Brockman, president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, pivoted quickly to integrate the large areas of unused space into the airport’s ongoing modernization plan. “After they [Delta] announced the dehub, we had big chunks of the concourses that weren’t being used,” says Brockman. While the plan initially called for renovations and additions to Concourse B, the airport realized midway through the process that they would have to switch gears.

Closing Concourse B required the airport to assess the other concourses to make sure they were able to accommodate increased flight traffic. “We realized we’d have to make significant improvements to A if we wanted to use it, so this last year we’ve worked to get that concourse ready.” Gates in Concourse A that didn’t previously have jet bridges would now be equipped to handle new, full-sized aircraft. However, even after work on A had been completed, the airport had to take a look at the buildings’ seismic standards. “As soon as we started work on Concourse B,” says Brockman, “we would have to bring it up to code. That would occur by digging underground and putting in seismic improvement to create support mechanisms for the building. It was going to be a very expensive proposition, in the neighborhood of $40 million to $50 million, that no one would ever see, touch, feel, or recognize.”

With that in mind, the project moved towards creating a more appealing aesthetic for a new and improved B Concourse. High ceilings, glass outer walls, and other amenities are some of the features now being implemented with the modernization process. Other additions, like more automated walkways and electrical outlets at every seat, aim to make the airport experience more palatable to travelers.

Rendering of the new Concourse B

Construction on Concourse B began in April. If the plan proceeds on schedule, it would reopen in early 2021. For now, the closure has caused the airport to reshuffle some of its operations. Delta Air Lines has moved its flights to A Concourse, while Allegiant moved to C. The refined aesthetic and increased functionality, Brockman hopes, will go towards making Memphis International Airport the premier flight destination in the Mid-South. “Our plan is geared around two things,” he says. “One: modernization. Two: bringing the customer experience up to this positively memorable level, which meets our other goal, to become the airport of choice for the Mid-South.”

While the partial demolition of Concourse B is under way, the airport has advanced the bidding process for contractors. After a prequalification for five firms, the number has been reduced to four finalists. Flintco LLC and Yates Construction both have Memphis offices, while Archer Western and a joint venture between Caddell Construction and FS360 General Contractors are based out of town. Each contractor was thoroughly vetted before being given the opportunity to bid.

”We evaluated their familiarity with an airport environment, their familiarity with a project that was similar to this, and their ability to work within a secured environment,” says Brockman. “This is a heavily regulated, security area that has its own requirements.”

Other changes the airport made included the elimination of southern extensions to concourses A and C. That, combined with new jet bridges to accommodate Delta, should allow for increased traffic into the airport. “Previously, there was only one way in and one way out,” says Brockman. “If somebody had a vehicle, car, truck, or plane, you couldn’t move another plane in.”

Beyond airport efficiency, the modernization plans will consolidate retail operations and include more shops and dining options. Among them are Torn Basil, an Italian restaurant by gate A27, and a new Blue Moon kiosk by gates C1 and C2. The airport has also installed a Starbucks and Urban Market by the B security checkpoint. Brockman is bullish about the project and has high hopes for the airport. “We’ve  adapted, tweaked, and changed, and we’re getting there. I believe the project we’re moving on with here is going to be one that the community, and the entire Mid-South region, will be very proud of.”