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Not too long ago, the combination of a delayed flight and an empty stomach bought a Toledo Express Airport traveler a ticket to lunch-counter purgatory.
Once past the security checkpoint, air passengers' only food option was a stand next to the second-floor waiting room that offered hot dogs, pretzels, and precious little else.
Tables for the facility were stashed away in an obscure room beyond the bar, which forced anyone aware of them - and wishing to use them - through a three-foot corridor clouded with bar patrons' cigarette smoke.
“There was nothing. It was terrible,” Penny Hood, an Indianapolis resident who travels to Toledo at least once a month on business, said yesterday between bites of a Subway sandwich at the terminal's new food court, which has turned the old facility into just an unpleasant memory.
“There's no comparison,” agreed Paul Renberg, a Saline, Mich., resident who works in Toledo and picked up a Beaner's iced coffee before flying to Tulsa, Okla., yesterday. “Before, there was not much here at all.”
What's “here” now is a completely made-over 1,800-square-foot area on the terminal's second floor, with an L-shaped food counter offering Marco's Pizza, Subway, Beaner's coffee, Toft's ice cream, and T.J. Cinnamon's baked goods on one side, a relocated bar on the other, and tables in between. The project cost the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority $350,000 for construction and equipment, with a result that Airport Director Paul Toth said has been “awesome - it's been very well received by the public.
“One of the first things I noticed when I took over was, we had to do something about the concessions. It was just so lackluster,” he said.
V/Gladieux, Inc., of Toledo now is managing the food court on the port authority's behalf, but negotiations are under way to convert that arrangement into a concessions contract, Mr. Toth said. The difference is that Gladieux now gets a management fee, while as a concessionaire it would be entirely responsible for the operation and pay a percentage of revenue to the port authority.
Current airport prices are about 10 percent higher than regular street prices for the same products, and the port authority hopes to keep it that way, Mr. Toth said.
Harold Meeks, a former Toledo resident who now lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif., praised the food court's value after buying a sandwich yesterday afternoon before a flight home.
“The selection is good, and the prices are great,” he said. “More airports should have prices like this.”
Mr. Toth heaped particular praise on Rossi & Associates, a local architect that he said executed the port authority's goal of designing a facility that was “as open and inviting as possible.”
Its design highlight, Mr. Toth said, is a pair of false skylights that have the diffuse lighting effect of real skylights but don't actually go through the roof - thus avoiding a maintenance headache.
The only airport patrons likely to be disappointed by the food court are cigarette smokers, because smoking is no longer allowed at the bar, which was the airport's only smoking zone.
The airport's ground-floor restaurant, which is on the public side of the security checkpoint, remains open.
Mr. Toth said airport officials are discussing whether to remodel it or put a ground-floor restaurant somewhere else in the terminal while developing a new use for the space.
Outside the terminal, a parking lot resurfacing project is about one week away from completion, Mr. Toth said, and bids will be opened later this month for a contract to rebuild the airport's crumbling main access road.