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Former Tampa International Airport chief Louis Miller gets the last laugh

Boy, we sure showed Louis Miller.

The man who helped make Tampa International Airport the gem it is today will go there this morning to catch a plane bound for Atlanta.

Before he leaves, he'll look around — old habits die hard after 14 years — at what's been accomplished at an airport that has earned its share of hometown pride.

New airsides, nice shops, busy restaurants such as Carrabba's. The easy efficiency that consistently wins praise from travelers. The post-9/11 changes. The interfaith chapel. Right down to the chewing gum to ease ear-popping in the air, something you couldn't buy there before.

Miller, who abruptly resigned as head honcho seven months ago after a run of controversy, will fly off to Georgia for some last-minute business. Monday morning, he will get to work running Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — quite a change from our airport, busier, with so many more of the travelers connecting to somewhere else.

"Ninety-million passengers a year," Miller says, "compared to our about 18 million." Notice the "our," maybe a sign of a man whose heart is still tied to this place.

It wasn't so great, how it ended. Miller is described by fans and foes alike as a guy who runs things his way, even if he does run them well. After years of heading up a consistently fine airport, he had run-ins with board members. He got some deservedly tough headlines involving things such as the open meetings law and tearing down a building without informing all board members.

He ended it his way, too, resigning in February. And then look what happened!

The interim guy took aim at one of our favorite perks, free parking for the first hour. Sure, the change would be a moneymaker, but one that would have made our airport a little less ours. Thankfully, that plan sputtered out. Which gives Miller an opportunity to say: See? See the airport without me?

But he is bigger than that. "I didn't agree with it, and I'm glad they didn't do it" is as far as he goes.

He didn't just run the place, he haunted every corner, there at the crack of dawn and on weekends. Other spouses might say, "Don't forget your lunch," but his wife was more apt to tell him to be careful not to get stuck in the sand as he drove around all those airport construction sites.

Some people don't know it, but Tampa loses another player in Cyndy Miller, a top city development official who has promised to stay until Mayor Pam Iorio leaves at the end of March.

She was with the Federal Aviation Administration, and he was running the Salt Lake City airport when they started dating. Later, there would be many married meals at TIA. One Valentine's Day, he drove her past the airport and across the bay so that she wouldn't know where they were going, then turned around and went to the CK's revolving restaurant atop the airport Marriott. She did not mind.

So yes, expect Louis Miller to land firmly on his feet in Atlanta. Already, he is excited about overseeing the new $1.4 billion international terminal. You could say he got the last laugh.

But he doesn't go there either, just points out a few more good things about our airport, a place he'll pass through today on his way to where he's headed next.

Hey, maybe he'll stop for gum.

Former Tampa International Airport chief Louis Miller gets the last laugh 09/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 9:04pm]
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