Music City makeover

Sep 19, 2016

Billion-dollar redevelopment of the Nashville International Airport a boon not just for the city, but for the A/E/P firms handling the project.

By Richard Massey Managing Editor

Faced with unprecedented traffic that is only expected to grow, the Nashville International Airport is planning a $1 billion redevelopment, and at the center of this effort will be the architects and engineers who will spearhead the design, construction, and management of a transformative project in one of the nation’s hottest markets.

By 2035, metro Nashville is projected to surpass 2.5 million people, and airport travel is expected to grow from 12 million annually to 20 million. Already behind schedule, Nashville has set an aggressive timeline to at least finish two of the projects – the parking garage and the international arrivals building – by 2018, all while keeping the gates open.

The redevelopment takes place as Tennessee, and more specifically, central Tennessee, maintains its place as a hotspot for direct foreign investment in areas like Cookeville, Smyrna, and Lebanon. The airport redevelopment also arrives as another $17.7 billion in work either begins, or continues, at major airports in New Orleans, Orlando, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. While the collective investment is no doubt impressive, it is also typical of a nation with an advanced transportation system, says Mike Boyd, founder and president of aviation consultancy Boyd Group International.

“I don’t know if it’s a golden age,” he says, referring to the airport construction boom. “It’s part of a process that’s been ongoing.”

Airports, he says, are responding to market demands and, he adds, responding to the presence of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is reconfiguring travel patterns.

“Traffic is going up,” he says. “It’s not episodic. It’s evolutionary. It’s not like this is a sudden trend.”

In particular, however, Nashville – currently dotted with as many as 30 construction cranes – has very tangible rewards up ahead. With a new international arrivals concourse, the airport will probably attract the business of two of the top airlines in the world, Lufthansa and British Airways.

“They don’t fly there yet, but they will,” Boyd says.

This month, Nashville is expected to select from among four firms that have submitted bids to determine the size and scope of the work, and to produce about 10 percent of the project’s initial schematic.

“They’ll get us started,” says Robert Ramsey, the airport’s chief engineer and VP of development and engineering.

From there, the big projects will be broken out as stand-alone jobs, and design teams will compete for the contracts for the following projects: international arrivals, terminal, lobby, concourse B, concourse D, and multi-modal transit. If a feasibility study works out the way the airport wants it to, a hotel will also be built. But there’s a catch. The firm that develops the initial schematic cannot bid on any future projects, a situation that made firms consider their options before making submittals.

“Do you want to do the opening piece, or something on down the line?” Ramsey says.

In addition to the big development contracts, the airport is also expected to outsource inspections and project management to local A/E/P firms.

Regardless of who wins out on what, one thing is certain: A lot of architects and engineers in the Nashville market are going to get work.

“There will be a lot of pens on the drawing board,” Ramsey says.

In August, the airport hired Fort Worth-based Paslay Management Group as the owner’s representative to advise the airport’s administration throughout the project. The Paslay portfolio includes major aviation projects at Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Phoenix, and San Diego.

With an owner’s representative, a chief design firm, and consultants for inspections and project management, not to mention the winners of the stand-alone contracts, the airport should have plenty of personnel to handle the redevelopment. Still, completing a $1 billion project in the heat of normal business won’t be easy.

“The biggest challenge we have is meeting the schedule while keeping the airport open,” Ramsey says. “It’s like rotating the tires as you drive down the road.”

Though the overhaul at Nashville is a big project, at $1 billion, the numbers are normal, says Wilson Rayfield, executive vice president of aviation at GS&P, one of Nashville’s largest multidiscipline A/E/P firms.

“For an airport the size of Nashville, it’s pretty typical,” he says. “That’s kind of the cost of entry.”

GS&P has plenty of experience with a diverse range of projects at airports across the United States and looks to be competitive when the Nashville bidding breaks out. What will GS&P be bidding on – the concourses, the terminal, or international arrivals?

“We’re interested in all of it,” Rayfield says. “We’re looking forward to the big project and we’re looking forward to being part of it.”

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.