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Airport building set for demolition won't be saved from wrecking ball

TAMPA — Despite concerns about how the decision was made, the Hillsborough Aviation Authority board Thursday voted to demolish a $4 million office building owned by Tampa International Airport.

Board members Al Austin, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and physician Joseph Diaco voted for the demolition, siding with TIA executive director Louis Miller. Miller said the building was no longer viable and needed to be torn down to make way for a future hangar.

The only board member Miller consulted about the demolition was Austin, who is the board chairman but also owns 400,000 square feet of office space in the adjacent West Shore area.

At Iorio's suggestion, the board voted to make sure Miller asks for board approval in the future before demolishing any building on airport property.

After the meeting, Iorio said taking such a step would avoid questions of impropriety. Iorio also sits on the Port Authority, where she said the board approves demolitions.

"These sorts of things should be brought before the board," Iorio said. "That's so we can avoid any controversy."

This controversy came after Steve Burton, the board's newest member and a managing partner of the Broad and Cassel law firm, said Miller should have sought board approval. Because Miller didn't, he left the airport open to questions like whether Austin had a conflict of interest, said Burton, the lone dissenting vote against demolishing the building.

Another board member, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, left the meeting without explanation and didn't vote.

The building is a two-story office building at 4101 Jim Walter Blvd. that had been the home of a reservation call center for Continental Airlines. Early last year, the airline decided to move — after it was told by the authority that its rent was going to be increased.

A Continental spokesman said the pending rent increase had nothing to do with its decision. It had paid nearly $500,000 in rent to the airport every year. The building is set for demolition on Monday, so its 40,000 square feet of space will be taken off the market. Austin has about 80,000 square feet that is vacant.

Austin said the building doesn't compete with his offices. He also said he only told Miller that he agreed with his decision to knock it down.

One person who was disappointed with the board's decision was former Hillsborough County Commissioner Joe Chillura, the architect who designed the building.

"Miller is a super nice guy and I respect him," Chillura said. "But why would you demolish a building that's making money and will cost more money per square foot to replace?"

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

Airport building set for demolition won't be saved from wrecking ball 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 11:24pm]
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