WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Visualize the service plazas on Florida's Turnpike — only at the airport.
That's what Palm Beach International Airport officials are hoping to create on 3.1 acres of airport property across from the cellphone lot.
The airport is seeking proposals to build a travel plaza where people can grab a coffee or something to eat, fill up their gas tank or shop as they wait for flights to arrive. They want a plaza with pizazz, offering such amenities as wireless Internet access, real-time flight information, a pay phone and ATM. It could also include a fast-food restaurant, restrooms and a car wash.
"We consider this as an extension of the airport," said Laura Beebe, deputy director of airport business affairs. "We're very cognizant about our passengers receiving the services they're looking for. We consider ourselves the stress-free airport."
The airport is looking for developers to create and lease the plaza, which would be at Belvedere and Florida Mango roads. As it is now, the airport's cellphone lot is a barren 80-space lot with a few trash cans, a couple of trees and a sign with the airlines' phone numbers — surrounded by a chain-link fence.
That would be closed in favor of a 60-space cellphone lot that would be a part of the proposed plaza that at a minimum would have a gas station and convenience store.
"We are looking for a more attractive and comfortable area," Beebe said. "It's important it's compatible with our existing facilities."
Other airports are doing similar projects outside their terminals.
Southwest Florida International Airport in Lee County is building a travel plaza. Miami International Airport is considering a plan that some have dubbed "Airport City" that would have a gas station, convenience store and hotels, including a pet hotel.
In addition to giving customers more options, the projects would raise money for the airports.
PBIA would at a minimum get $1.35 per square foot, half a cent for every gallon of gas pumped and 2.5 percent of annual gross revenues from concessions.
Ruth Covino of Stuart thinks the concept is "a good idea."
"It's nice because if you come here at night, it's dark and you're all alone," she said while waiting in the cellphone lot Monday afternoon. "You will feel safer because so much more is going on."
But Bruce Tayler of Jupiter isn't keen on the plan.
"I like it just the way it is," he said, because it's quick and easy. "If you start adding more things, it slows everything down. It bogs people down… We don't need anymore Burger Kings, McDonald's or car washes. Then it becomes something else, not the airport anymore."
The only improvements he would add are bathrooms and shade, he said.
The airport is accepting proposals for the travel plaza until August. A committee will select the winner and Palm Beach County Commissioners would have to approve a contract. That could happen this year, Beebe said.
Once a contract is approved, it could take two years to design and build the plaza.