Big Construction Continues At Charlotte Airport As Summer Travel Season Begins
Charlotte Douglas International Airport says passenger levels are back where they were before the pandemic. And as the summer travel season kicks off this weekend, passengers will be arriving amid a massive construction project. The airport is undergoing a $500 million expansion of its terminal lobby. The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter recently got an inside look at the project and the Ledger's Tony Mecia joins WFAE's "Morning Edition" co-host Marshall Terry for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, this is a huge project. What all does it entail?
Tony Mecia: Well, it is a pretty big project, Marshall. Anybody who's been out to the airport lately has seen a bunch of construction. You know, there's always cones and barrels. This particular project is the lobby expansion and renovation. The existing airport lobby was built in 1982. And over that time, the number of passengers coming through has just multiplied.
So they're doing a bunch of different things. They're going to expand it. They're going to redo some of the security entrances, the ticket counters. They're going to be putting a canopy over the entrance road, that was just recently redone in the last year or so. They're finishing up one side of the lobby. There's going to be sky bridges.
And the really interesting thing is they've erected the steel beams and there's a cutout in the top of them for a skylight. They're calling it an oculus. Right beneath that, they're going to actually bring back the statue of Queen Charlotte and put it in the lobby. She should be making her triumphant return back to the airport within the next month, Marshall.
Terry: Right, because the statue was on the outside near the parking decks, right?
Mecia: Yeah, that statue has been outside for more than 30 years. And so the statue of Queen Charlotte, which is a 15-foot-tall bronze statue, it had turned kind of green — bronze tends to turn green over time. So they've had it refurbished and she's coming back, and will look shiny and radiant in her new spot in the lobby.
Terry: Passenger levels are back up to where they were before the pandemic. So how is the airport carrying on all of this construction with so many people coming and going?
Mecia: Very delicately. They are very conscious of that, about trying to make sure they don't get in the way. And so that actually adds some cost and some length to the project. They're doing it in stages so that they're not too disruptive. This is a $500 million project, it's supposed to be finished in 2025.
Terry: Tony, Credit Karma this week announced it's expanding its office in Charlotte's Ballantyne and adding 600 jobs. It really seems like most, if not all of the big jobs announcements recently in Charlotte have been in fintech.
Mecia: We've seen a lot of job announcements in the intersection between finance and technology, really drawing on Charlotte's background as a financial center with the banks. You know, the banks are basically becoming, in many senses, technology companies. There are new companies that are being spun off of that. And the workforce here, you have a bunch of people that are very financial-minded and tech-minded. And so sort of that marriage is leading to that.
We've seen announcements of expansions by LendingTree, AvidXchange, Better.com. Robinhood said they're opening an office here. So we've seen, really, a lot of those, playing to Charlotte's strengths.
Terry: Is Charlotte getting too many of these white-collar jobs and not enough jobs that are more blue-collar and don't require a college degree?
Mecia: Well, that's a good question, Marshall. I think economic developers, they tend to love these kind of jobs. They're high-paying. They're not harmful to the environment. It requires a skilled workforce, an educated workforce. But, yeah, I mean, they certainly want jobs for everybody, not just for people in some of these really specialized areas like data analytics, machine learning and that sort of thing.
I think they would say that when you have new jobs like this, that there is a multiplier effect that spills over. You move into an office, you need someone to clean the office. The office workers need to go eat somewhere. So you do see a spillover effect, really, on those kind of jobs.
We've also seen lately an increase in announcements in warehousing. You've seen Amazon with a number of announcements over the last year or so — logistics, warehousing-type jobs. So not all of them are these super high-tech, high-paying jobs just for highly educated people.
You also have manufacturing. A lot of those jobs are moving out into the region, out into Gaston County, York County, Lancaster County. Those can be some pretty high-paying jobs and don't require advanced degrees, but we're not really growing that many of them here in Charlotte.
Terry: Finally, you report that nights at the movies in SouthPark could soon be coming to an end. What's going on?
Mecia: Well, a lot of people know Regal Cinemas has a pretty big movie theater in SouthPark at Phillips Place. It's been there for 25 years, just actually reopened in the last couple of weeks. But the owner of Phillips Place, Lincoln Harris, has come out and said it's going to file a rezoning request pretty soon to see if they can rezone that site for what is now movie theaters to a 10-story office building.
Plans are a little bit up in the air at the moment. It is still an operating movie theater that has a lease there for a few more years. Certainly, it's no secret that movie theaters are kind of having a hard time right now with the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime, all these streaming options. People are not really eager to get back to being in an enclosed space for two or three hours at a time to watch some of these movies. So, changes on the way in SouthPark.
Terry: All right. Thank you, Tony.
Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.