(ran ET edition of Tampa & State)
Upgrades at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport are planned with an eye toward the future.
Two construction projects are under way at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport which, when finished, will leave the facility even more customer friendly.
The projects, a 25,000-square-foot addition to the baggage claim area and 60 additional hangars to accommodate private planes, are necessary to better accommodate "the customers we currently serve," said airport director James Howes.
"But obviously, with projects of this magnitude, we also have our eyes on our future."
Howes and others have projected passenger numbers will nearly double _ from 490,000 to 880,000 _ by 2015.
The $7-million addition to the baggage claim area includes four additional carousels bringing the number at the airport to six.
Once the new addition opens, probably in late May, four rental car agencies will move in. Howes said bids for the rental car booths are being solicited.
Future plans include adding a second level to the new baggage claim area for four new gates. The gates would be complete with Jetways, to allow passengers easy, indoor access to planes.
The infrastructure for the second level, including elevators, escalators and restrooms, is part of the current baggage claim area expansion.
County Commissioner Karen Seel said it remains to be seen if expanding the baggage claim area was a good investment for the county.
"It depends on if we are able to bring in additional customers," she said. "As long as we can demonstrate we have added business, it will have been a good investment."
Construction of the new hangar area kicked off in November, Howes said _ a few months later than anticipated. "We had to get a number of approvals from regulatory agencies," he said.
The new hangars, in the northeast quadrant of the airport, bring the number of hangars for private planes and jets to about 160.
The new units are condominiums and have already been sold, Howes said.
"It's apparently a reflection of a booming economy," Howes said. "Private aviation languished for years. Now it is coming back."
A Tampa firm, Delta Aircraft Corp., which is not connected to the airline, is constructing the new hangars on 5 acres of airport property. Delta will maintain the exteriors and roofs of the hangars as well as any new taxiways, Howes said.
The cost of the hangar condos was $35,000 to $42,000 each.
Seel said building the new hangars is a good deal for the county. "It provides us with additional income," she said.