Over 300 jump at chance to be BWI entrepreneurs

New concessions firm will decide on leases

April 01, 2004|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of entrepreneurs clutching business cards and proposals crowded a hotel suite yesterday to propose something new to fly at Baltimore-Washington International Airport: their ideas for places to eat and shop.

They had a chance to meet officials from BAA USA Inc., the U.S. offshoot of a British airport and concession operator that will take over concessions at BWI on May 1. The company was chosen by airport officials impressed by BAA's Pittsburgh Airmall, a first-of-its kind shopping mall within the airport that offers local and national brands to travelers at market prices.

BAA will replace HMSHost Corp., the Bethesda-based company that ran its own retail and a few national brands such as Starbucks at the airport for more than 30 years.

Airport and BAA officials said they were pleased with the turnout yesterday at the BWI Airport Marriott on West Nursery Road. About 300 people came to pursue leases, as well as construction, marketing and service contracts. Some common proposals were offered - coffee shops, restaurants and bars - and some uncommon ones - a Zengars model car and cigar store and a massage center.

Mark R. Knight, a regional director for BAA, said during the transition he will hire companies to run Host's businesses under new names, in addition to a few new shops. In all, about 120,000- square-feet of space is to be filled.

"We're looking for a full range, national and local brands," Knight said. "We hope the change-over will appear relatively seamless to the public. We'll have a half-dozen companies to help with the transition, then in two or three months there will be more new ones, and in the next couple of years we'll be fully developed at 50 to 60 to 70."

BAA agreed to spread at least 30 percent of the store leases and other contracts to women- and minority-owned companies and offer a pot of money to aid startups.

The company also pledged to see about jobs for Host employees, many of whom recently unionized in an effort to gain better wages and benefits. Most workers, with security clearance and training, are expected to stay on past May 1, and a job fair is planned next week to find them permanent positions.

Yesterday, it was the entrepreneurs' opportunity. Many already operate businesses in Maryland, and others want to enter the lucrative airport market.

Melba Gaillard, a network manager for the insurance company Kaiser Permanente, wants to open a massage center that could provide quickie and full backrubs for achy travelers.

"It's trendy," she said. "And with so much stress going on, it's a good way to break up the monotony of travel."

Norma Bishop and Lee Putney, who own Zengars in the city's Inner Harbor, want to expand to the airport. They sell cigarettes, cigars and gifts such as model cars and chess sets. They said airport travelers are captive and in need of shopping choices.

Jacqueline W. Sales, president of her engineering company, wants an investment and plans to partner with the owners of City Dock Cafe in Annapolis.

"I'm still doing my due diligence," she said. "But you can't go wrong with coffee."

Already chosen to take over some of Host's food businesses temporarily is Airport 2000 Concessions LLC, whose partners are now investors in other local businesses, said Errol D. Brown, one of the partners.

Brown, also a Prince George's lawyer, said they will continue to offer pizza, deli foods and other items in demand by travelers.

"We've already inventoried what Host has, and we'll be ready to take over May 1 on a temporary basis," he said. "After that, we're looking to expand with new restaurants."

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