Being ‘local’ isn’t enough to get a coveted spot at Austin airport


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport prides itself on promoting local restaurants and businesses inside its concourses. Whereas a lot of travelers will see large chains inside other major airports, Austin airport’s current policy aims to lease 80 percent of its shops to local or regional brands.

However, that percentage could change. In a memo dated Dec. 1 to the Austin City Council, the director of the Department of Aviation recommended the airport change to 70 percent local/regional brands and 30 percent non-local/national brands. According to an airport survey the memo cited, even with the changes, ABIA is still more local than other airports, which usually consists of 20 percent local/regional brands and 80 percent non-local brands.

At Thursday’s meeting, city council members were scheduled to vote on several bids for businesses at ABIA. Two items in particular prompted debate: the bid for two casual dining restaurants in the airport and the bid for a massage location. The council sought clarification on both and tabled them until next weeks’ council meeting.

There was a considerable discussion at the meeting about the bid made for two Austin restaurants, 24 Diner and Parkside to have an airport establishment; their bid was managed by Host International Inc. In a bid system, those two restaurants scored higher than the other bids that came in, but was only .26 of a point ahead of the next highest ranking bid.

When Mayor Steve Adler asked Austin Director of Aviation Jim Smith if .26 points was a significant difference between the two bids, Smith said ” the scores were very close.”

The owners of Black’s Barbecue and Threadgill’s Restaurant came forward at the meeting, identifying their bid as the one that ranked second. Council members had questions about why the packages were scored the way they were and why the margins between the first and second ranked bids were so slim.

“I’m beyond confused,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo. “I think we’re gonna need a little more time on this is my guess.”

The players in 24 Diner and Parkside also are connected to the Austin community.

“We’ve really been trying to get into the airport for a couple of years now, and it’s been a really hard process to get into the airport,” said Rick Garrett, an Austin resident and business owner who helped out with the bid for 24 Diner and Parkside.

Family-owned Black’s Barbecue has also been in the Austin area since 1932 and feels their family history would add to the airport.

“We’ve been given these amazing gifts from my grandparents and my great grandfather with these great recipes and traditions, and it’s now our job to carry on that legacy,” said Barrett Black, a fourth generation of the family operation at Black’s Barbecue. “We’re trying to share it with as many people as we can and the Austin airport would be an awesome opportunity to do that.”

Black’s Barbecue felt honored to have been asked to be part of this bid, they understand that the competition is steep.

Threadgill’s has existed in Austin since the 1930’s as well, it’s current owner Eddie Wilson also owned historic Austin music venue Armadillo World Headquarters.

Wilson explained that increases in property taxes, insurance, and rent have been a huge burden on his restaurant in downtown Austin.

“My taxes and what not downtown have gone up several hundred percent, and so what used to cost just a few years ago $6,000 a month to have Threadgill’s downtown is now closer to $40,000 a month, and I need, I need some help with that,” Wilson said. He believes an outpost at the airport for Threadgill’s would give him the help he needs.

“I think we would do a real good job of representing Austin the way Austin likes to be seen,” he said.

Attorney C. Daniel Wheelus appeared at council on behalf of real estate mogul Gary Keller. Wheelus said that Keller, as a benefactor of Austin’s live music culture, wanted to help out Eddie Wilson and Threadgill’s.

“We know there are winners and losers in this process and it’s unfortunate, and in this case, there are winners and losers for the entire city of Austin,” Wheelus said. “Threadgills and Armadillo [World Headquarters] is bedrock, and I know Gary sees them –and I know you all see them –as bedrock.”

Proposed Austin-Bergstrom International Airport concessions. (City of Austin)

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