TAMPA — Talk about going to the highest and best use.
Years ago, land near the main road going into Tampa International Airport was a storage lot for damaged rental cars.
"We used to drive down here and say, ‘Oh, that was a bad one,’ " Tampa International chief executive officer Joe Lopano said Thursday.
Today those bashed-up cars are gone. In their place, construction is underway on a 9-story office building to be known as SkyCenter One.
It will be connected by a pedestrian bridge to the airport’s year-old SkyConnect train. Developers say tenants will be able to get from their desks to the airport terminal in eight minutes.
“It’s part of a vision where we said, if we build a train, maybe we could connect it to an office building or a hotel,” Lopano said. “That’s what we’re doing today.”
SkyCenter One will be on the north side of a large atrium that’s already under construction. On the south side, airport officials are looking to bring in a hotel.
The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority plans to lease three floors in the building for its offices. Moving those staffers out of the airport terminal is expected to give the airport more room for passenger operations.
The developer, VanTrust Real Estate, will lease the remaining 160,000 square feet to businesses interested in being on airport property. At the moment, there are no tenants other than the airport pre-leased in the project, but developers expect that to change by the time SkyCenter One opens in spring 2021.
“This building being in the heart of the West Shore market, we’re very confident,” VanTrust executive vice president for Florida John Carey said.
The airport is not paying for constructing the shell of the office building, which has an estimated cost of about $49 million, according to city development records.
But officials said earlier this year the airport would cover the costs of preparing the 17-acre site for development ($13.5 million), building the atrium and pedestrian bridge ($53.6 million) and building out its own offices on the three floors it leases ($42.5 million).
SkyCenter One is part of the second phase of a $2 billion expansion designed to make the airport capable of handling 34 million passengers a year.
But it’s not the only part. Also Thursday, the aviation authority’s board approved another $119 million for a project to add express pickup and drop-off lanes to the main terminal and build a central utility plant that will cut the terminal’s energy consumption by 30 percent.
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The expansion is only possible, Lopano said, because officials like the late George Bean designed the airport in the 1960s with an eye on future growth.
“This couldn’t have happened if it was designed like (Los Angeles) or San Francisco or any other place,” he said.