Aerospace Center for Excellence to Operate Concession at Lakeland Linder Airport

Aerospace Center for Excellence to Operate Concession at Lakeland Linder Airport

Lakeland Linder International Airport faced a challenge in finding a private vendor to open a concession shop beyond the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint. Despite reaching out to several businesses, the response was lackluster due to the airport’s low passenger traffic. However, a solution was found in an unlikely partnership with the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), a nonprofit organization located adjacent to the airport.

The Challenge: High-Risk, Low-Reward Proposition

At bustling airports, concession shops thrive by catering to a captive audience of travelers seeking refreshments, reading materials, and travel accessories. However, Lakeland Linder’s situation is quite different. With Avelo Airlines set to commence operations on June 13, offering two weekly flights to New Haven, Connecticut, the concession shop’s potential customer base is limited to ticketed passengers who have cleared security and authorized personnel.

Airport Director Kris Hallstrand acknowledged the high-risk, low-reward nature of the endeavor, especially during the first year. “We talked to a bunch of folks; nobody’s interested,” Hallstrand told commissioners. “One private sector player offered a bank of vending machines. And I hated that.”

The Solution: Synergy and Educational Opportunities

In a serendipitous turn of events, Hallstrand discussed the dilemma with former Airport Director Gene Conrad, who now serves as the president and CEO of the Aerospace Center and Sun ‘n Fun. Conrad’s proposal to have ACE operate the concession shop was met with enthusiasm by Hallstrand, who recognized the synergy between the two organizations.

“If you think about it, talk about synergy, right? I mean, we’re huge contributors and supporters of aviation programs over at ACE. This allows us to help them also raise more money for their programs,” Hallstrand remarked.

The Aerospace Center for Excellence: A Unique Partner

The Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to aerospace and STEM education. With a 25-acre campus comprising 14 buildings, ACE offers a range of educational programs, including outreach initiatives, field trips, interactive laboratories, scholarships, and summer camps. The organization reaches approximately 50,000 students annually and is recognized as a world leader in producing licensed teenage private pilots.

Among ACE’s facilities are the Florida Air Museum, the Central Florida Aerospace Academy (a public high school), the Skylab Innovation Center (featuring flight simulators and drone laboratories), and the ELEVATE Aerospace & Logistics Business Incubator. By operating the concession shop, ACE can generate additional revenue to support its educational missions.

A Win-Win Agreement

The Lakeland City Commission unanimously approved a three-year lease for ACE to operate a 290-square-foot retail space inside the terminal’s secure passenger lounge. The agreement includes favorable terms for the nonprofit, such as waived rent for the first year, a customary 12% concession fee on gross revenue, and a 50% rent credit for up to $25,000 in improvements made to the space.

The contract also includes a generous exit clause, allowing either party to terminate the agreement with a 30-day written notice, providing flexibility for both the city and ACE. Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley praised the initiative, stating, “I love it… the whole tie to Aerospace and having them be creative with revenue streams. The synergy of it all — of having students that are going to benefit from the sales.”

As Lakeland Linder Airport grows and potentially adds more flights, the concession shop operated by ACE will serve as a testament to the power of collaboration and the pursuit of educational excellence in the aviation industry.