JWA vendor hopeful raises its offering price

The company looking to unseat the main concessionaire at John Wayne Airport has offered the airport $10 million more in rent compared with its first proposal.

Delaware North Cos. of New York is hoping to sway the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which will decide on Jan. 11 which company controls the county-owned airport's restaurants, cocktail lounges and snack shops.

At stake is the right to sublease about 28,000 square feet of commercial space in the main terminal and in the under-construction Terminal C. After 20 years with the same concessionaire and an expiring contract, the airport sought proposals for new restaurant concepts and new revenue projections.

Delaware North last week increased the minimum amount it would agree to pay the county over 10 years from $24 to $34 million.

Current concessionaire HMSHost Corporation of Maryland offered the county $39 million, and the Airport Commission voted unanimously Dec. 15 to recommend the county stay with HMSHost. After the vote, at least one commissioner cited the higher rent in his decision.

Delaware North responded with a letter to the Board of Supervisors criticizing the commission's focus on rent and offering to pay more. Company President Matthew King wrote that the board should take a balanced view of food brands and other criteria.

A panel of airport staff members had previously praised Delaware North's selection of national and local brands, including a John Wayne-themed restaurant run by Wayne's son, Ethan.

"They have changed the rules and made it all about the money," said Nick Schaefer, director of business development for Delaware.

Delaware North officials also claim the passenger spending figures HMSHost used in its rent offer were unrealistic, and customers might suffer from higher prices or lower staffing levels, so that HMSHost could meet rent demands.

"We know we didn't leave money on the table," Schaefer said of his original offer.

A representative from HMSHost did not return calls seeking comment.

In other airport news:

Construction crews plan to finish the new Parking Structure C this month, but it won't be available until Terminal C opens in late 2011.

Terminal C, a 282,000-square-foot building, is coming along. Workers have painted its steel ceiling beams and laid some stone on walls. It will house six new commercial passenger gates, security screening checkpoints, food and beverage concessions, and three baggage carousels.

Workers also erected steel beams on the new North Commuter Terminal, which will handle fights from commuter carriers like Delta Connection and United Express.

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