TAMPA — One selling point of Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano's $943 million plan to remake the airport is that it would make renting cars there a whole lot easier.
Instead of looking for deals on or off airport property, customers in the ninth largest rental market in the nation would be able to choose from a range of prices, choices and companies all under one roof.
That perk will be a reality in two years: The airport said that nine rental companies — representing 16 different brands — have signed agreements to use its new 2.6 million-square-foot rental facility months before its even set to break ground this fall.
"I personally did not expect to sign them up so quickly," Lopano said this week. "But I will tell you that I am very, very happy that we have them on-site now."
Most of the companies that serve the airport, including several that are now off-site, have signed agreements, officials said. Those contracts must still be approved by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, the airport's governing board, on June 4.
When it's finished, the new car rental facility will be a four-minute ride from the renovated main terminal using a new 1.3-mile automated people mover.
Once the shuttle doors slide open in the new rental car facility, Lopano said, customers will have access to most of the rental brands, big and small, serving the airport. That means no more bus rides off airport property looking for a better deal.
"Even if you don't have a reservation, you'll be able to see everything from the $29 car to the $200 car," Lopano said. "You can shop the room. From a customer service standpoint, it is the optimal situation."
Many other airports have built consolidated rental car facilities. But Lopano pledged that: "This will be finest rental car experience in the country."
The new facility is projected to generate an additional $8 million annually for the airport, officials said.
Under the airport's current agreements with rental car agencies, it's guaranteed a minimum of $23.1 million a year. But under the new contracts, that will rise 34 percent to $31 million.
"That's the minimum," said airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps, "but obviously we expect this market to grow."
In fact, the four-story rental car facility will be 300,000 square feet bigger than airport officials originally intended. They added space to fit the entire Tampa car rental market and give it enough space to handle 10 years of projected growth.
The airport currently has four major players operating in the main terminal: Avis Budget Group Inc., Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the Hertz Corp. and Thrifty Car Rental.
Airport officials said that when those companies move to the new facility, Thrifty will be absorbed by its parent company, Hertz. The three big players will then share counter space on the fourth floor with their subsidiaries, smaller companies and independent operators. The other three floors will be used to store rental vehicles.
"We sized it to be able to handle all the on-airport and off-airport guys," Lopano said. "We knew there was a lot of interest for the off-airport guys to come onto the airport and compete."
The advantage for the rental companies, airport officials said, is that the new facility allows them to consolidate their operations in one corner of the airport. They won't have to rent cars on one end of the airport and service them on the other end anymore.
"The rental car companies are very, very excited about the efficiencies this new building will give them," Lopano said.
Contact Jamal Thalji at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.