PHOENIX -- Eighteen months of design, more than two years of construction and $250 million later, the consolidated car rental facility at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is nearing completion, with the finishing touches being added for its January opening.

The four-level, crescent-shaped structure will house the 14 auto rental operators that create the third-largest auto rental market in the country, generating $270 million in gross annual revenue.

The building occupies 23 acres of the 141-acre property, with the fourth level containing the retail and customer service facilities for the each rental company, three levels for parking and on-site maintenance and fueling facilities. The building’s retail space is 120,000 sq. ft. while the parking area spans 2.2 million sq. ft.

The parking structure dedicated to the rental companies is three levels consisting of 5,600 individual spaces, with an expanded capacity that is able to hold 7,400 vehicles. That is an increase from little more than 1,000 available spaces for operators at the terminal.

Though the structure is a quarter-mile long – each level is capable of fitting the equivalent of 13 football fields – no space is farther than 300 feet from an elevator or escalator.

"Each of the rental car companies has dedicated elevators and escalators that go to their exclusive use space,” said Paul Blue, business liaison for the Phoenix Aviation Department. “So there’s actually going to be an Avis escalator and a Hertz escalator, etc."

The design concept was to make the process more efficient and customer friendly, while allowing car rental companies to appropriately expand their business.

"I think this is probably going to be a 30-year facility in terms of the amount of room the rental companies have to grow their businesses," Blue predicts.

The existing facilities in the terminal complex at Sky Harbor were limiting the amount of business operators could do, to the point where many had to move off the airport grounds, he says.

The result was a plodding shuttle process that gave rental customers an impromptu tour of the airport grounds. Where before each rental company was responsible for picking up its customers with its own shuttles, now the airport supplies the transportation.

A new fleet of 62 airport buses will replace the car rental companies’ shuttles for transport from the airport to the consolidated facility. During busier traffic days, there will be buses that shuttle to specific terminals rather than stopping at each one. From pick-up to drop-off, Blue says the travel should average about eight minutes per trip.

First proposed in the late 90’s, the design phase of the project kicked off in mid-2002, with construction beginning on October 2003. Funding for the project comes from a $4.50 per day customer facilities surcharge applied to rental car customers.