The master plan taking shape for Tampa International Airport would make a facility already known for its convenience and quality an even greater asset to the region.
The plan is meant to guide the airport over the next 20 years as it seeks (with limited space and money) to handle nearly twice the 17 million annual passengers it sees now. So far, officials are staying focused on the airport's primary mission, which is to provide the flying public a clean, reliable and affordable link between the region and outside world. The airport needs to stay attuned to the customer experience as it balances its long-term needs and wants.
The most dramatic change would be to move the rental car operations from inside the main terminal to a new, consolidated transit facility at the southern entrance to the airport. Moving out the rental cars would free up 1,200 parking spaces in the long-term garage, making it easier for the public to park closer to the terminal and move in and out of the airport much more quickly.
The transit center would also act as a relay station for bus or future rail. Passengers flying in or out would ride a people mover between the transit center and the terminal, saving them the anxiety of driving through the congested, unfamiliar airport roadway system. And local residents who book a rental car at TIA could get a vehicle without having to drive through the airport property.
The transit center would enable better use of the terminal space. Other improvements, such as redesigned pickup and dropoff lanes at the curbside and an onsite gas station, would make the airport more customer-friendly.
The airport will present the concept at a public workshop on Thursday at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater in mid Pinellas. This is part of an effort to underscore that TIA serves the entire Tampa Bay region. The airport still has major decisions to make, such as how much to develop the vacant land on its eastern side. But the early draft of the master plan is promising. Joe Lopano, who took over as the airport's chief executive last year, is following through on his pledge to grow the business while maintaining the quality of TIA. That balance should not be lost as the master plan enters its final few months of development.