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ACE will launch Lakeland Linder’s first airline passenger store

The first store at Lakeland Linder International Airport won’t be one of the city’s popular coffee shops, but a name more familiar to the province’s teachers.

Lakeland commissioners voted unanimously Monday to approve a lease agreement with the Aerospace Center for Excellence Inc., known as ACE, to operate the Lakeland airport’s first concession store. The agreement comes less than a month before Avelo Airlines is scheduled to begin offering passenger aviation services.

Airport Director Kris Hallstrand said a search was made high and low for someone who could offer shopping concessions at the airport.

“We talked to people from the local community, nationally and internationally, who are in this industry in Tampa and local coffee shops,” she said. “Nobody was interested. Especially in the first year, this is a very high-risk, low-reward opportunity for someone.”

Avelo will begin flights from Lakeland to New Haven, Connecticut on June 13. The low-budget airline will start with one flight in each direction, twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays.

Hallstrand said she started looking at different vending machines to offer food and retail options.

“I hated that, but I had no other choice,” she said.

Hallstrand struck up a conversation with former airport director Gene Conrad, who left town to become president and CEO of ACE. Conrad asked if ACE might provide the airport’s concession services.

While ACE may not be the first thing people think of when it comes to food and drink, Hallstrand said the nonprofit operates The Island, a local camp store during the annual Sun ‘n Fun expo, and has a concession area within the Florida Air Museum.

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“It’s a new concept at the airport as we transition to commercial air service,” said Deputy City Attorney Ramona Sirianni. “This will be a good fit for ACE to offer these services.”

ACE will enter into a three-year, non-exclusive lease with the city for approximately 290 square meters of the airport within the secure zone. It will sell pre-packaged foods and beverages and may offer retail items related to travel, such as pillows, mobile device charges, earbuds, over-the-counter medications or souvenirs.

In return, the nonprofit pays the city about $532 per month, including utilities, for a total of $6,380 per year. ACE will also receive a rental credit of up to 50% of any improvements it makes to the airport space, up to a maximum of $25,000.

Sirianni said the city had agreed to provide a monthly rental credit for the first 12 months of ACE’s operation, “due to the start-up nature of the company.”

Once the concession is completed and revenue is generated, ACE will pay the City 12% of gross revenue generated plus any applicable state and local sales taxes. The city’s agreement states that gross revenue is considered the total amount charged to a customer, after deducting any rebates.

Hallstrand said the terms of the lease do not reflect any special treatment or favoritism toward ACE. The 12% of all sales periods is common for concessions in the airport sector.

“This gives us an opportunity to help them raise more money for their programs,” she said.

The airport director said that while there may now be limited space for concessions in Lakeland Linder, she expects this to grow, and this will give ACE the opportunity to establish itself first.

Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7545. Follow on X @SaraWalshFl.