Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa International Airport fans equate free parking with world-class status

Paul Wood surely ranks with the biggest fans of Tampa International Airport.

The Ohio transplant raves over parking above the main terminal, a short elevator ride from ticket counters and bag claim. Wood, 51, can go on and on about the clear directional signs and new, longer luggage carousels.

Two or three times a month, Wood drives to TIA from his south Hillsborough County home to pick up a friend or a friend's relative. Most are elderly; half use a wheelchair or need assistance.

Last week, he was shocked when Tampa International's boss proposed ending first-hour-free parking in garages closest to the main terminal. Interim director John Wheat said the perk, introduced in 2005 to relieve traffic jams at the curbs outside bag claim, wasn't necessary anymore.

Passenger traffic is down and drivers now can wait in a free cell phone lot. Also, there's a lot of money at stake. Charging $1 for each 20 minutes or $3 an hour would generate $2.2 million a year during lean times.

But critics of the change don't talk so much about money. Like Wood, most are profoundly proud of Tampa International's reputation for customer service.

They warn that eliminating what Saint Leo University business professor Adam Shoemaker calls "the magical First Free Hour" could send the wrong message.

"When friends come to visit, they can't believe that an airport would actually do something that both saves the consumer money and just plain makes sense," he wrote to the airport. "It makes visiting TIA akin to a joy, rather than a drudgery, as most of us have experienced at other, lesser airports."

That's a big reason Tampa International consistently ranks in the top three mid-sized U.S. airports. What other world-class institutions can we claim? Moffitt Cancer Center? Pinellas beaches? Bern's Steakhouse?

Financial consultant Scott Bush of Oldsmar says in his days as a frequent flier, his girlfriend would gladly pick him up at Tampa International. It's so convenient and blessedly free of big-city airport chaos. "If you take away a reason for people to go there, you become a little less world-class," he said.

Airport officials estimate 500 to 700 cars a day would move out of the garages and onto the curbs to pick up travelers if they end free parking. Fewer folks waiting inside wouldn't seem to be good for airport restaurant and shops.

But retailers report most of their business comes from travelers, not meeters and greeters staying less than an hour, Wheat says.

Free parking might not be on the chopping block if airport revenues hadn't dropped the past two years, he said. Wheat is confident curbside congestion won't return if board members decide next month to end free parking effective Oct. 1.

Lou Delmonico of Treasure Island agreed. Visitors could simply use the cell phone lot if they don't want to pay. "It's a trend of the times," said Delmonico, picking up his in-laws at the Airside A shuttle stop. "They're just falling in line with other major airports."

Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa International Airport fans equate free parking with world-class status 08/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 8:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Carrollwood fitness center employs scientific protocol to help clients

    Business

    In 2005, Al Roach and Virginia Phillips, husband and wife, opened 20 Minutes to Fitness in Lakewood Ranch, and last month they opened the doors to their new location in Carrollwood.

    Preston Fisher, a personal fitness coach at 20 Minutes To Fitness, stands with an iPad while general manager/owner Angela Begin conducts an equipment demonstration. The iPad is used to track each client's information and progress. I also included one shot of just the equipment. The center recently opened in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  2. Olive Tree branches out to Wesley Chapel

    Business

    WESLEY CHAPEL — When it came time to open a second location of The Olive Tree, owners John and Donna Woelfel, decided that Wesley Chapel was the perfect place.

    The Olive Tree expands its offerings of "ultra premium?€ extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) to a second location in Wesley Chapel. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  3. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  4. New York town approves Legoland proposal

    News

    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  5. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]