TAMPA — When people arrive for the Republican National Convention in August, they will find a Tampa International Airport spruced up with millions of dollars in improvements.
The refurbishing isn't being done to impress the delegates, and was going to be done anyway, airport officials stress. But they want to ensure it will be finished before the RNC.
Convention planning has been in the works for months but "everything is accelerating now," said Ed Cooley, senior director of operations at TIA. The focus, he said, is on "what we can do before the RNC and what can we do after the RNC."
What the airport is doing involves both coordinating with Homeland Security to deal with the influx of delegates, news media and protesters, and ensuring that the long-planned modernization project goes off without a hitch, Cooley told the Aviation Authority board.
The board Thursday unanimously approved the latest part of the $20 million project, with a guaranteed completion date of Aug. 10 for the first phase, 17 days before the convention begins. About half the work will be done before the convention and the rest will be finished afterward.
The project includes refurbishing half the restrooms on all levels of the main terminal, new signs promoting the area, tourism kiosks at baggage claim, a waiting area for members of the military, to be run by the USO, and a new waiting area for travelers using valet parking services.
Once the convention is over, the second phase of work begins in September, including replacing carpeting on the ticket level with tile, extra seating in waiting areas and better lighting on the ticket and transfer levels.
The tourism kiosks in baggage claim are a first for the airport, which has had only visitor information booths in the main terminal. It's part of the airport's renewed focus on helping boost the economy through tourism promotion. Volunteers will staff the kiosks.
The new signs at baggage claim will have two purposes, said Al Illustrato, vice president of facilities and customer services at TIA. One is to promote local attractions such as the Pinellas beaches. The other is to generate revenue for the airport through advertising.
The USO lounge, which is scheduled to open in July, is also a first for TIA. It will be staffed by USO volunteers and will give active-duty military members a place to relax, make phone calls, check email and get information about the Tampa Bay region, Illustrato said.
The Marriott at the airport also just finished some renovation work, a $9 million project that included new upholstery, bedding, carpeting and 37-inch HD LCD TVs.