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Nashville International Airport opens grand lobby to travelers

Nov 21, 2023Nov 21, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — One unified terminal, a multi-story entrance, 12 new concessions and 14 additional security lanes: Tuesday marked the biggest change at the Nashville International Airport since the BNA Vision renovation project began in 2017.

"It's gorgeous," said John Desser, checking in for his flight home to D.C. Tuesday morning. He's a frequent visitor since his daughter began attending Belmont University. "It feels like a real airport in a real city. It's great!"

Just about everything is different. Travelers will now enter through the center of the airport, no longer avoiding the construction that's been concealed for years.

"Last week this was all closed off, so I didn't see it. This morning I thought I’d go through the center section and see what's new," said Rhonda Fraser, who lives in Nashville and travels weekly for work. "This is just beautiful. I’m very impressed."

She says what immediately caught her attention was the two 70-foot-long screens showing 12k live-action footage from places across the state.

The grand lobby is 200,000 square feet in size. It has a round skylight that helps the building to appear like a square guitar from above.

A hanging art installation serves as the centerpiece, with 8,000 washi paper kites suspended from fiberglass rods.

"I like the overall openness of the whole design," said BNA President and CEO Doug Kreulen. "Behind us where the video screens are, used to be our offices... so we completely gutted the 1987 terminal, raised the roof, and made it a more enjoyable experience for our passengers."

The new security lanes are outfitted with 3D scanners for carry-on bags. That means you won't have to take larger electronics out anymore, but you will have to fit your bag into a tray.

So those oversized carry-ons you've gotten away with in the past? They need to be checked with the airline.

Oddly-shaped bags (like guitar cases) will be hand-checked by TSA, similar to how they handle strollers.

Twelve new businesses opened to the public with the new grand lobby Tuesday, including The Pharmacy Burger Parlor, Parnassus Books, Draper James and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum store.

"We wanted the design of this whole building to reflect Tennessee. The warm colors, the skylights and wood. But we also wanted the businesses inside [to reflect Tennessee]. So if you come to Middle Tennessee and you enjoy it in downtown Nashville or the surrounding counties, you can enjoy it at the airport one more time," Kreulen said.

When BNA Vision is complete at the end of the year, the airport will have added some 90 new shops and restaurants, half of which are local. The businesses selected had to beat stiff competition. Fraport Tennessee, which runs the retail and concession program, says 450 businesses applied for the 90 open spots.

To accommodate a forecasted 35 million passengers per year in the next 20 years, BNA has been expanding gates and landing new non-stop destinations.

"We have 95 nonstops," said Kreulen. "Our new goal is 135. In September when we open our new international arrivals facility, we'll go from one international gate to six. So we're really hoping to get a second nonstop service to Europe, probably somewhere in Central Europe, and then eventually into Asia."

The new international facility is located right behind security and is currently walled off. Once complete, travelers will be able to see straight onto the taxiway and watch planes take off and land.

Construction isn't finished when the $1.5 billion BNA Vision project wraps up this year, however. The airport is taking on another $1.4 billion expansion called New Horizons, next. That will expand the number of gates at the airport to nearly 70 by 2028.

If you're wondering how all of this is paid for, you're not alone. After aviation grants, the Metro Nashville Airport Authority borrows bonds to cover the cost. It pays off that debt with money made at the airport, including airline fees, concessions and parking.

A major road reconstruction project is also underway to make way for a much larger airport. Once the Tennessee Department of Transportation successfully moves the Donelson Pike Interchange further east (estimated by 2026), BNA will have room to double its internal loop length and expand lane capacity from three to six.

Before then, the next major feature opening is the international arrivals facility in the fall. The Hilton Hotel and a satellite concourse will open by the end of the year.

For those who travel a lot, it's a huge change.

"Definitely competes with top of class in the country," said Fraser before checking in to her flight.