TAMPA — The trains arrived by boat and are headed to the airport.
Twelve train cars, which cost $1.9 million each, make up the SkyConnect people-mover shuttle system currently being built as part of the $1 billion phase one renovation at Tampa International Airport. The tram cars arrived at Port Tampa Bay from Mitsubishi's plant in Japan Monday morning aboard an auto liner ship.
The cars were rolled off the ship and will be installed at the airport by its manufacturer, Mitsubishi, this week. The people-mover shuttle system will connect a new rental car facility and the economy parking garage to the main terminal and will be operational early next year, eliminating the need for passengers to catch a bus.
"These trains represent the future of the Tampa International Airport, and continues on our legacy of innovation," said Joe Lopano, CEO of the Tampa airport, at an unveiling ceremony Monday. Gov. Rick Scott was among the many local, regional and state officials who attended. "We're writing the next chapter of the airport. And we're still growing. We are on par to have the most passengers this year in our history," Lopano added.
The first phase one of the airport's master plan renovation, which has been three years in the making, is coming to a close with the arrival of the SkyConnect train cars this year. It was the first major renovation to the airport since the terminal was built in 1971. The improvements — which include adding a slew of new retailers and restaurants to the terminals, building a new rental car facility that's double in size and adding the new shuttle system — will help the airport accommodate 35 million passengers a year, or double the annual amount recorded in 2013. The project has been slightly delayed through the year, but remains under budget. TIA issued bonds, used passenger facility fee collections and $194 million from Florida Department of Transportation to finance the project.
Earlier this year the airport came under fire by state legislators for its spending on the renovation. The airport is currently undergoing an audit related to the project.
Airport officials asked the public to vote on a name for the new people-mover system, which is how the moniker "SkyConnect" was chosen. The trams feature images of native Florida birds.
The people-mover train will also be the connector from the main terminal to the Gateway development area, the centerpiece of the $543 million phase two of Tampa International Airport's master plan, a 17-acre 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.
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.