IN FOCUS: LAX lays out grand retail vision

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Los Angeles International airport has unveiled a line-up of 60 premier restaurants and luxury retail shops that will fill out its new Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The terminal's Great Hall, set to open in spring 2013 along with new boarding gates on the west side of the terminal, is part of a $4.1 billion LAX modernisation programme that is giving the airport its first facelift since the existing Tom Bradley terminal opened in time to receive international visitors to the 1984 Olympic Games. A second terminal development phase, to open in 2014, includes new gates on the east side of the terminal, new federal security screening area, and upgraded customs arrivals area.

The overall result will be to add 18 new gates, including nine dedicated to so-called group six ultra-large aircraft such as Airbus A380s and Boeing 747-8s, along with the largest 777s. Along with other improvements to taxiways and aprons, the development is expected to slash the need for large aircraft to be towed to the gates, often at remote terminals. New security and customs areas will also be welcome, replacing what airport insiders readily agree are inadequate facilities unable to cope comfortably with current passenger volume.

From a passenger perspective, the restaurant and retailing improvements could prove every bit as valuable as better gates and runways. Where visitors to Tom Bradley today can find just one "sit-down" restaurant and a selection of fast food joints, the new Great Hall will offer 42 eating and retail concepts new to LAX, including 28 which are new to any airport. Developer Westfield anticipates annual sales of $98 million.

Significantly, while the package includes brands familiar to any global traveller - ranging from Armani and Bulgari to Porsche Design, Starbuck's and Victoria's Secret - the new Tom Bradley International will also feature 22 home-grown Los Angeles brands. The goal, says Celine Cordero, head of air services marketing for the City of Los Angeles's Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) unit, which owns LAX, is to give a "taste and feel of Los Angeles".

LAWA executive director Gina Marie Lindsey, the former Seattle-Tacoma International managing director and Washington DC aviation consultant who has been driving hard to realise this project since taking on the LAWA job in 2007, goes even further, describing a "a 'sense of place' reflecting the culture, cuisine and trends of Los Angeles".

Airports are rarely accused of offering a "sense of place", but if LAWA is successful at LAX then rivals may have to rethink their passenger experience proposition. As Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa puts it: "We're investing in LAX because it isn't just a travel hub, it's the gateway to the Pacific Rim and a central driver of our regional economy."