Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will open the largest rental car center in the United States next month in an effort to simplify the process for tourists while at the same time creating less traffic congestion for locals.
The three-story center consolidates all of the airport’s 13 rental car companies into one place. No longer will each company have counters in each of Sky Harbor’s three terminals, and passengers who rent cars will not have to seek out individual rental agency buses at the airport curbs, officials said. All of the cars and counters will be in one location.
Beginning Jan. 19, travelers will fly in and wait outside the terminals for a common shuttle bus to go to the new center. Dropped off at the curb, they’ll walk inside the C-shaped building to find side-by-side counters for whichever rental car company they choose.
The trip is expected to take an average of 8 minutes, about the same it does today but with less confusion, said Tamie Fisher, special projects administrator.
"It’s one bus to one place," she said. "It will be very simple and much more efficient."
The center is big enough that it resembles a miniairport terminal. It’s on 141 acres on the southeast corner of 16th Street and Buckeye Road. The facility has a 120,000-square-foot customer service lobby on its top floor with sweeping views of the East Valley. The bottom two levels contain 5,600 parking spaces for rental cars.
For Valley residents, the center will free up 1,600 parking spaces in airport parking garages previously used for rental cars.
It is also expected to lessen congestion on terminal roadways because about 50 buses will replace more than 120 currently used by various companies. Also, those returning cars will be headed for one place instead of several rental car return lots on the airport.
For the eco-friendly, compressed natural gas will fuel the buses that run between the terminals and the rental car center. The shuttles will have visual displays so passengers will be delivered directly to the terminal where their flight is departing. Buses will drop off and pick up passengers at different places on the terminal curbs to avoid passengers from getting on and off at the same time.
The media was allowed to tour the facility Tuesday. It features desert tones and dichroic glass artwork done by artist Ed Carpenter. The glass is cut in angles so different colored bars of light shine on the walls and move with the sun depending on the time of day.
The center will feature a food and beverage stand and will have small seating areas.
The Valley’s rental car market ranks third in the United States behind Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles with $250 million in annual gross revenue, airport officials said.
The center was paid for through the sale of $270 million in bonds. The airport began collecting a customer facility charge in 2002 to pay the bonds off. At that time, it was $3.50 for each day a vehicle is rented, but the charge increased to $4.50 a day when construction on the center began in 2003.
The bonds are expected to be paid off in 20 years, but the customer charge will last for the lifetime of the center so officials can keep up with operating costs and capital improvements that will be needed, Fisher said. The center is expected to handle the airport’s rental car needs for 30 years, she said.
The facility cost more than officials expected. When it was announced in April 2003, the center was to cost $250 million. An airport spokeswoman said there was a $20 million increase in labor and material expenses.
Construction at the airport will continue following the rental car center’s opening. Sky Harbor’s new control tower is expected to be finished next year and operational in 2007.