Some 50 new shops and restaurants were approved for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Monday in a bruising process that often involved signature Twin Cities business owners and restaurateurs vying against each other for coveted airport space.
The result of the five-hour meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission means the main mall of Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) will change significantly, along with key spots on every concourse except G, which was overhauled two years ago.
"There were so many great proposals, but there were definite winners and losers," said MAC Chair Dan Boivin.
The MAC lured local restaurant owners and retailers to bid on the space in an effort to give the airport a distinct Minnesota feel. Brands ranging from the Minnesota Twins to tiny St. Paul lingerie shop Flirt Boutique emerged victorious, and local star power came out in force — at one point, musicians from legendary Twin Cities bands Trip Shakespeare and Suicide Commandos each supported separate proposals for a music venue.
The decisionmaking process was a nail-biter to the end, leaving bitter feelings among those whose bids were unsuccessful.
"I guess a national award-winning local operator isn't good enough for the MAC," said a visibly upset Kim Bartmann, a James Beard semifinalist and restaurateur who owns Barbette, Pat's Tap and Bryant-Lake Bowl, among others.
Bartmann's proposal for a restaurant was paired with Cedar Cultural Center as a live-music venue, a new concept for the airport that was modeled after the airport in Austin, Texas.
Instead, a bid including local craft beer pub Republic won out, along with McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul and Stillwater's LoLo American Kitchen.
"This is going to be great, the kids will love it," said Chris Osgood, vice president of community relations for McNally Smith and also a member of the 1970s punk band Suicide Commandos.
The public will begin to see construction of new storefronts and restaurants in October.
The entire renovation will take 18 months and will be staggered to minimize disruption.
This also comes as the airport winnows its security checkpoints from four to two.
Another major concession contract involving all remaining food and beverage outlets is slated to be let two years from now.
All told, companies submitted 54 proposals for concession space, which was parsed out in 14 "batches" that grouped multiple locations throughout the airport, some high-performing, others not.
A heavy hitter that was shut out was Minnesota-based Buffalo Wild Wings, whose CEO Sally Smith made an appearance in the jam-packed meeting to pitch the popular sports bar concept for the TGI Friday's space on Concourse C. Smith noted that the company has some 1,000 restaurants and "high brand recognition that travelers do seek out."
Smith was joined in the same batch by Katie Chin, the daughter of legendary restaurateur Leeann Chin, who supported a restaurant bearing her family name slated for the main terminal. "My mother always dreamed of having a restaurant at the airport," she said.
Instead, a new sports bar concept called Minnie & Paul's Twins Grill won approval, along with Smack Shack, a Minneapolis food truck-turned-restaurant, and Angel Food Bakery, owned by chef Katy Gerdes, the winner of the Cooking Channel's Donut Showdown. The choice went against the MAC's staff recommendation.
Wearing a white chef's jacket, Gerdes declared to the commission, "We're local. I'm local. I make the doughnuts."
Twins President Dave St. Peter said the new sports-themed restaurant will be modeled in part after the successful Minnesota Wild sports bar in Terminal 2 (Humphrey), "but we want to take it to another level" that will "go beyond chicken wings."
Another major change coming to the airport is the replacement of Chili's restaurant in the main terminal. That location will become Stone Arch, a restaurant/craft brewery combo run by Twin Cities restaurant owner Ryan Burnet and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Burnet is known for local restaurants Barrio, Bar La Grassa, and Burch Steak.
The Stone Arch proposal, pitched on behalf of Burnet and the Guild by concessionaire Aero Service Group Inc. of St. Louis Park, was opposed by a labor union. UNITE-HERE Local 17 is trying to organize the company's operations at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Many of the companies bidding for spots were global firms well known in the airport concessions field.
The airport market for retail outlets and restaurants in North America is $9 billion, according to the trade publication Airport Revenue News. The MAC says the entire program generates more than $180 million in annual sales and about $25 million a year in rent to the commission.