The billion-dollar remake of Tampa International Airport is a strong show of confidence in the Tampa Bay region. The upgrade will create thousands of jobs, churn millions of dollars through the local economy and help the airport maintain its competitive edge. It also could be a rallying point for regional cooperation and a model for improving the area's transportation system.
The board that oversees the airport, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, approved plans last week for the $1 billion makeover. The renovations will bring a lighter, sleeker style to the main terminal. Storefronts will be relocated to the outside perimeter, freeing up the center areas and opening the sight lines, creating a less cluttered feel that should make it easier for passengers to move around.
The new design will expand and modernize the third-floor terminal, enabling the airport to bring in newer restaurants and shops while freeing up traffic areas and maximizing its space. The improvements to taxiway, service road and baggage areas will enable the airport to grow while maintaining the quality that carriers expect. Moving the rental car operations out of the main terminal and into a new consolidated facility on the south end will reduce traffic around the property and extend the life of the 43-year-old main building. And the new, automated people mover between the new rental car facility and the terminal will create a more efficient way of getting visitors to and from their flights.
The plan is a sound approach for preparing the airport to grow without taking on the debt of a second terminal. With 3,300 acres, TIA needs to be creative. Orlando International Airport, by comparison, has 13,300 acres. By making better use of the main terminal, and opening a revenue stream near the new car facility, the airport is continuing to focus on aviation-related service while also improving its bottom line. And the plan still allows for more ambitious expansion later on.
As one of the largest public infrastructure projects in Tampa Bay, the plan represents a huge investment in the future. Over the next two decades, officials say, the project will yield $370 million in new tourism business. That will expose millions to the bay area's workforce, beaches and cultural amenities. The expansion also offers a more sophisticated approach to transportation planning. Once completed, the airport's plan will be a key part of helping travelers to move across a seamless system of planes, cars, buses, trams and (one day) rail to get to downtown Tampa, West Shore, downtown St. Petersburg and elsewhere. This is a major contribution to the region's quality of life, and area leaders need to help the airport meet its exciting goals.