The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Board agreed this week to execute a $56 million, five-year contract with Chicago-based SP Plus to manage what will eventually be more than 10,000 public and employee parking spaces as the airport transitions to a new 30-gate Terminal 1 facility.

Ace Parking, which for decades has managed parking structures and lots at the San Diego International Airport, is out, and a new contractor, SP Plus, which oversees operations at airports across the country, is in.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Board agreed this month to execute a $56 million, five-year parking management contract with Chicago-based SP Plus to manage what will eventually be 11,000 parking spaces as the airport transitions to a new 30-gate Terminal 1 facility. The firm was one of four companies that responded earlier this year to a solicitation for parking management ahead of the coming expiration of Ace’s current contract on June 30.

Ace, which has had a presence at the San Diego airport for 53 years and oversees parking operations at five airports in the Western U.S., ranked second in a review by an Airport Authority selection panel that took into consideration many criteria, including cost, hiring and training, innovation and worker retention.

SP Plus, which manages parking and shuttle contracts at 16 of the top 30 larger airports, including San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles, was ranked No. 1 by all eight members of the selection panel, according to an Airport Authority staff report.

While Ace’s proposed bid was about $5 million less than rival SP Plus, that did not sway panelists in their ultimate ranking and selection.

“The bidders submitted exceptionally strong bid packages, and staff followed through in a comprehensive process to determine the most competitive proposal,” said Gil Cabrera, who chairs the Airport Authority board. “SP Plus’ submittal was unanimously ranked No. 1 across a broad spectrum of criteria, including innovative revenue generation and use of technology.

“And we look at the entire bid. Pricing is one component, and our team believed there were revenue enhancement potentials that could also close that gap.”

Still, the loss of the longstanding parking contract stung, said Ace Parking owner Keith Jones, although he said he made a deliberate effort to be noncombative when making his remarks to board members during a hearing earlier this month. Several of the members complimented him on his graciousness.

“I stand here with a heavy heart,” he told the board. “It is very difficult, both professionally and personally, to stand before you today as you are choosing to move ahead without Ace. We have worked through the full process to ensure that you have had relevant information, and while I am deeply disappointed at the outcome, I am also filled with gratitude.”

Jones, in an interview with the Union-Tribune, said he still is puzzled why his company did not prevail, but he has chosen to move on. While the airport represents substantial business for Ace, Jones’ San Diego-based company still manages a huge number of parking operations across the country — nearly 1,000, of which 300 are in San Diego County, accounting for more than 25,000 spaces.

“The Authority talks obsessively about wanting to do business with San Diego companies,” Jones said, “so how do we give the opportunity for local businesses on this one? There’s one that’s been there 53 years.”

Airport staff said SP Plus stood out for a number of reasons, including its extensive experience with airport construction projects and opening new parking facilities, and it’s also an airport-focused company. On top of that, it is prepared to employ a number of strategies for delivering extra revenue to the airport, including such services as car washing, dry cleaning, corporate parking and loyalty programs.

“We operate more large hub airports than any other operator in the United States,” said Jason Finch, a president with SP Plus for its Western airports division in a presentation before the Airport Authority board. “We’re up to 76 airports in the United States. We are also the largest operator of more parking and ground transportation shuttle operations. And we enjoy a very professional and collaborative relationship with the local Teamsters 41 and are committed to the full retention of all staff.”

Finch also noted that his company has overseen the San Diego airport’s rental car shuttle since 2016.

Once SP Plus takes over July 1, it will have to navigate the complexities of ongoing construction at the airport where a new 5,230-space parking structure is being built in front of the yet to be completed Terminal 1 building. Once the Terminal 1 parking structure is completed by the summer of 2025, there will be a total of 8,436 spaces between the two structures serving Terminals 1 and 2. SP will also oversee other public lots, plus employee parking.

SP Plus will also be tasked with managing valet parking at both terminals, as well as the airport’s customer reservation system.

The search for a company to manage airport parking began more than a year ago in anticipation of Ace’s contract expiring this year. But the airport got just two responses when it first solicited operators, and in the interest of having more competition, it went back out with a second solicitation that yielded four proposals, said Marc Nichols, director of ground transportation.

He pointed out that while SP Plus’ proposal was costlier than what Ace submitted, there are some financial advantages, including revenue sharing amounting to $1.1 million.

The Airport Authority estimates that it will realize $69 million in parking revenue by the 2025-2026 fiscal year, when the Terminal 1 parking structure will have been completed. That compares with $46 million in revenue during the 2023 fiscal year when the parking structure was shut down.

The replacement of the 1960s-era Terminal 1 with a new 30-gate facility, along with planned airfield improvements and new roadways, is expected to cost $3.8 billion — almost quadruple the cost of the $1 billion redevelopment of Terminal 2 a decade earlier.

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