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Lakeland Linder Approves Concessions at Airport

With Commercial Service on the Way, Aerospace Center for Excellence Sets Up Terminal Shop

The Airspace Center for Excellence has been given the blessing to begin operating Lakeland Linder International Airport's first concessions store, riding on the tail of new commercial service by Avelo Airlines.

Evidently, there weren't too many bidders for the opportunity, with most in the area eschewing what they believed is a non-starter. The approving body came by way of Lakeland commissioners, who voted unanimously to approve the Center's lease agreement. Airport Director Kris Hallstrand admitted that despite their best efforts... nobody really wanted 'in', aside from ACE.

"We talked to folks in the local community, national, international, that are in this business in Tampa and local coffee shops," she said. "Nobody was interested. Especially the first year, this is a very high-risk, low-reward opportunity for somebody."

As it happens, the Airspace Center for Excellence sort of stumbled into the gig, in a way. Hallstrand had mentioned their desire to open some kind of concessions now that the airport has Avelo flights operating in and out of it, with twice weekly service on Thursdays and Sundays. As she shopped for vending machines, which are just about the least welcoming and exciting culinary options imaginable, she mentioned the problem to Gene Conrad, head of ACE and once Airport Director of Lakeland Linder.

Oddly enough, ACE has been slowly ramping up their own skill in running a kitchen, since this year marked the first time they established an eatery on the field for Sun 'n Fun 2024: The Island. Now, the Center will enter into a 3-year, non-exclusive lease with Lakeland city for about 290 square feet inside the secure area. For now, plans are for them to sell pre-packaged foods, drinks, and some travel niceties for those in the airport. That lease will run ACE about $530 a month, with a rent credit up to half of whatever they pay for improvements to their space. ACE will get their rent free for the first 12 months, given the inherent risk of running a shop in a spot with biweekly commercial traffic. In return, they'll pay the city 12% of the gross.

The Center says they'll be keeping the money flowing to programs and education, as always. If successful, they could be the first of a new flourishing Lakeland ecosystem, but that's still a story to come.



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