Tampa international airport details $543 million second phase of massive construction plan gas bubble in throat

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The trick for the airport is to expand its property to accommodate that growth without bursting at the seams, or out of those sneakers — all while keeping the airport open for the thousands of passengers who flow through its gates every day.

The centerpiece of the next phase of expansion is the "Gateway" commercial development, which includes plans for up to two hotels, an eight-story, 240,000-square-foot office building, a 20,000-square-foot retail strip and a gas station with a convenience store.

Some of that office space will be leased back to the authority and its employees. Tenants for the retail strip are not yet set, though officials have previously talked about the possibility of a pet hotel or restaurants. Also not yet clear is what hotel chains might be interested in coming to the airport.

With perhaps a nod to legislative rumblings in Tallahassee about airport spending, Lopano said of that first phase of work: "We did what we said would do. We’ve done the right thing for the customer. And that’s important because its our legacy. It’s something we have to protect."

This marks the first major renovation to the airport since the terminal was built in 1971. The first phase of the project includes a new 2.6 million-square-foot rental car facility and a new people mover train, which will connect passengers from the rental car area and economy parking garage to the main terminal.

Airport officials said favorable interest rates on a refinance of existing bonds plus the authority’s efforts to fatten its financial bottom line in recent years in anticipation of this project makes the outlay well within the airport’s ability to fund the construction.

The per-passenger cost charged to the airlines, which provides a chunk of Tampa International’s budget, will increase from the current $5.37, climbing steadily until reaching $8.24 in 2025, the airport says. But that’s still far below major airports and even those of comparable size.

The Phase II proposal is actually a rethinking of earlier plans after the airport identified some cost savings. Those include not expanding the terminal to consolidate security checkpoint screening. That’s a significant savings because it allows the airport to keep in place the current air traffic control tower and in-airport Marriott hotel.

Phase I of the project was budgeted at $971 million and, among other improvements, includes new restaurants and retailers, including such local favorites as Goody Goody, Kahwa Coffee and the Cafe at Mise en Place. By next year, the new people mover and rental car facility will be open, freeing up new parking space in the airport’s long-term parking garage and offering a wider choice of rental companies for travelers.

"We have to recognize that we have to look at these sorts of things," said board chairman Robert Watkins. "We can’t just sit still. We have to be thinking about what’s going to be happening 15, 20, 30, 40 years from now. Others are going to have to deal with what we do or don’t do today. So we need to be good stewards of what we’ve inherited and keep this ball moving forward so this airport can be the pride of the community that it’s been."