Steven Burton elected chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority

Steven Burton, who shook up Tampa International Airport two years ago with his early criticism of then-executive director Louis Miller, was elected Thursday as chairman of the airport's governing board.

In his new position, Burton could hold considerable influence over how the airport develops. The down economy put the brakes on plans to build a $1 billion first phase of a new terminal north of the original landside terminal.

As recently as five years ago, TIA's long-term plan called for building the first phase by 2015. But declining passenger traffic pushed back the need for the terminal to 2025.

Burton and the board will have to decide whether to stick with the plans or take a different course. Removing the north terminal from the map — or delaying construction further — could lead to new commercial ventures on airport property or even advance mass transit, Burton said.

"It could keep room for a rail corridor, rapid bus transit, maybe even a monorail to International Plaza mall," he said.

But that would require new work to relieve congestion at the main terminal. That could involve expanding the size of the third-floor transfer level, moving rental car operations out of the terminal area and finding more ways to divert vehicles waiting to pick up and drop off passengers.

Managing partner at the Tampa law office of Broad and Cassel and a longtime Republican fundraiser, Burton, 50, joined the board in 2009. He was soon bumping heads with Miller over his inability to recruit more international flights to Tampa.

Burton and other board members peppered Miller with questions about his judgment on other issues, and he resigned after nearly 14 years at TIA in February 2010. Miller subsequently won the top job at Atlanta's airport, the world's busiest.

Thursday's meeting was the first for new member Robert Watkins and the last for Al Austin, the former chairman and longest-serving board member with 12 years.

Austin took time to salute chief executive Joe Lopano, who took over after Miller left. Austin, at first, doubted that the new boss could deliver additional international flights to Tampa. He now thinks Lopano will pull it off.

''In eight months, you've convinced me of something I didn't think could happen," he said. "I trust you're going to achieve that."

In other airport business:

• Airport officials said the first new flights from TIA to Cuba — scheduled for Sept. 10 — are sold out.

• The board passed a $178 million budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 that includes a $2.50 fee on every rental car contract at TIA and a 3 percent raise for Hillsborough County Aviation Authority employee their first in three years.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Steven Burton elected chairman of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority 09/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 10:38pm]

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