People who need to return their rental cars — that's about 1 in 7 air travelers — will head for the corner of Pacific Highway and Sassafras Street and turn west. Once on airport property, they'll drop off their cars at a $316 million, four-story, 2 million-square-foot facility that will house 16 rental car companies.
Those rare travelers not in a rush can enjoy the lush landscaping and public art or have dinner at a fine-dining restaurant within the building.
They'll be whisked away — or arrive, if their plane has just touched down — on a shuttle that uses a route that stays inside airport property and avoids using Harbor Drive for more than half the journey. It will be a consolidated shuttle for all rental-car companies, reducing the number of buses by 75 percent.
Many people who park at the airport will also get to use the Sassafras Street entrance. A new, relocated $11.9 million parking lot is scheduled to open next month along Pacific Highway. Eventually, the shuttle that takes these travelers to their flights will use the on-property terminal road that should be ready in time for the grand opening of the rental-car center in early 2016.
“This will be the first time this airport has two entrances,” said Keith Wilschetz, airport planning director for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, at a town hall meeting to present concepts of the North Side Development Feb. 11 at the McMillin Companies Event Center.
Following the successful completion last August of the airport's $1 billion Green Build overhaul project. He said the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is now full-speed-ahead in developing the property to the north, much of which was acquired after the long-ago departure of General Dynamics.
The overall concept in developing the north side is to achieve a “campus feel,” Wilschetz said.
“The north side has been an eyesore for a long time,” Wilschetz said. “Our CEO wants this to be a very beautiful area.”
The north-side development reached its first milestone in November 2012 with the opening of a new 23,000-square-foot receiving and distribution center for food, beverage and retail items.
Construction of this back-of-the-house facility may have gone unnoticed, but that won’t be the case with the rental-car center, which Wilschetz called the “centerpiece” of the project. Any day now, the first of four tower cranes will be deployed, he said.
“This is going to be the first time the community says, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s something going on,' ” he said.
Completing the design of the rental-car center, which will be funded by customer facility charges, took months of negotiations. Rental-car companies balked at moving to the north side, preferring a location in front of
Terminal 2. A deal was struck when the airport agreed to build the terminal link designed to keep much of the shuttle route off public streets, Wilschetz said.
“This was a big, big deal for the rental-car companies,” he said.
The terminal link road will go around the runway’s east end and flow into Harbor Drive directly across from the U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego. A signal will be added, which will improve access for the Coast Guard, too, Wilschetz said.
An additional lane from that intersection will be constructed to continue west to the terminals. There won’t be a corresponding new lane on the south side of Harbor Drive, Wilschetz said.
To make it more visibly appealing from surrounding neighborhoods, the project includes $2.5 million in landscaping and improvements along Pacific Highway. Some sections between Washington and Palm streets will see new curbs, sidewalks and bioswales for stormwater treatment.
“Unlike our terminals, people who live north of the airport are going to see this every single day. It should look very beautiful when we're done,” Wilschetz said.
Another major component of the project is the $37.5 million fixed-based operator facility for private jets. It will be one of the first such facilities to attain the platinum level in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Landmark Aviation, the operator, is financing the construction, scheduled to be complete in May, Wilschetz said.