TAMPA — A building at Tampa International Airport that was temporarily spared from a controversial demolition apparently won't fetch the rent airport officials were led to believe.
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority endorsed plans this month to tear down the old Continental Airlines reservation center. Executive director Louis Miller delayed the demolition when an authority board member said Moffitt Cancer Center might rent the building for more than $600,000 a year.
This week, Moffitt offered half as much: $300,000 for the first year of a 20-year lease, with 1.5 percent annual increases thereafter. The authority countered Friday with an offer of $472,000 to $522,000 per year.
Board member Steve Burton cast the only vote Jan. 7 against tearing down the two-story building.
Three days later, Burton sent an e-mail to the authority's legal counsel saying that a commercial office broker contacted him on behalf of a client willing to rent the building for over $600,000 annually for 10 years.
Continental, the previous client, had paid about $464,000 a year.
A Moffitt spokeswoman said Chad Rupp, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, told Burton the property was worth $400,000 to $600,000. "We never said we'd pay $600,000,'' said Michelle Foley, the spokeswoman. Moffitt is considering several properties, she said.
Burton, managing partner of the law firm Broad and Cassel in Tampa, bristled at her version of the conversation with Rupp.
"I asked if they were willing to go over $600,000,'' Burton said, "and he said 'of course.' He led me to believe (they'd pay) even more than that.''
Airport staff and Moffitt will continue negotiating, with the goal of reaching a deal in time to get approval at the authority's March 4 board meeting, said Miller.
Continental ran the reservation center at the 400,000-square-foot building on 5.6 acres since 1991. The airline shut down the operation last year as part of larger cutbacks in reservation centers.
Miller had decided to demolish it, saying the building would have required costly upgrades and didn't fit in with the airport's long-term plans. The site is slated for a private aircraft hangar, but not for at least 10 years.
Jones Lang LaSalle initially told airport officials in October they had a client interested in the building. But airport officials said they were moving ahead to tear it down. Miller informed only one board member, chairman Al Austin, who owns commercial real estate near the airport.
Burton and another board member, Dr. Joseph Diaco, criticized Miller for not telling them about the demolition plans or about interest in the structure from real estate brokers.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.