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Tampa International Airport delays $906 million in construction

A $690 million project to build a new airside for international flights will likely not be started for four years.

TAMPA — With air travel down more than 95 percent, Tampa International Airport officials said Thursday that they will delay or cancel nearly $906 million in construction projects over the next five years.

“We’re going to put our plans and dreams on hold,” airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano told the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. “These are tough decisions, but we continue to operate. We haven’t skipped a beat at this airport.”

The biggest project to be affected will be Airside D, a $690 million plan to add 16 new gates for domestic or international flights. Construction on that new airside originally was expected to be done in late 2024. Now it will be delayed four years.

“We will re-evaluate our deferrals as we see the market come back,” Lopano said. In the meantime, projects already underway as part of the airport’s master-planned $2 billion expansion will continue to move forward.

Along with delaying construction projects, the airport’s board voted to increase a line of credit the airport has with Truist Bank from $100 million to $200 million.

During April, passenger counts at Tampa International fell nearly 96 percent, with fewer than 86,000 passengers for the month. That’s down from more than 2 million for the same month in 2019.

Related: The pandemic's impact on air travel: 'We've seen a complete decimation of demand'

Last month, the aviation authority waived $8 million in rent for March and other fees for 10 airlines, five rental car companies and five concessionaires whose business has been hard-hit by the drop in demand. In return, the airlines and other businesses agreed to repay what they owed by September.

On Thursday, the authority approved nearly $25 million more in deferred rent and fees. That includes relief for April, May and June totaling another $8.1 million for rental car companies and nearly $5.5 million more for the airport’s stores, restaurants, spas and currency exchange concessionaires. That relief must be repaid to the airport between May 2021 to April 2022.

Airport officials also extended an offer of further relief to airlines totaling $11.25 million on the condition that the airlines accept terms that include repayment later.

Airport officials project that the loss of business caused by the pandemic will reduce passenger counts this year to 13.2 million, or 40 percent fewer than last year’s record of 23.3 million. The loss to the bottom line for the fiscal year is projected to be $31 million.

To cover the waivers and other expenses, the airport plans to use some of its reserves. It also is receiving $81.2 million in pandemic relief funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Despite the dropoff in demand now, airport officials said they think Tampa International and the bay area more generally are well-positioned to re-attract visitors and travelers after the pandemic. The reasons for their conclusion include:

• The bay area’s lower rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 residents, compared with the Orlando and Miami metro areas. "One of the things we’re hearing from travel experts and airlines alike is that as people make travel plans, they want to know, ‘Am I going to a place that is relatively safer?’ " said Chris Minner, the airport’s executive vice president of marketing and communications.

• The fact that the bay area relies less on hospitality and tourism than other Florida metros, enhancing its economic resiliency. Airlines need outbound travelers from a market as well as incoming ones, Minner said, and a stronger economy supports that two-way travel.

• The construction of 1,600 new hotel rooms around the area and a report from Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater that over the Memorial Day weekend some beach hotels had 100 percent occupancy rates.

“A very encouraging signal that there is pent-up demand,” Minner said. “People want to come to our market.”

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