TAMPA — Thanks largely to Amazon, Tampa International Airport's cargo business is booming, with 42 percent more cargo in August than in the same month last year.
So on Thursday the airport's board moved to hire a firm to design and build a big expansion of cargo facilities on 70 acres east of the main terminal.
In August, the airport handled nearly 36.3 million pounds of cargo, not including mail, with a little more than half of that coming into the airport. For the 12 months ending in June, TIA saw 392 million pounds of cargo, a 104 percent increase from 2015. The airport is second only to Cincinnati for cargo growth from 2010 to 2017.
During the peak winter months, FedEx flies eight planes a day through TIA, with another seven coming from UPS and six from Amazon.
The cargo expansion project has an estimated budget of $72.3 million, but that could change as the board approves various phases of design and construction in the future. No money was allocated to the project on Thursday.
The Middlesex Corp., headquartered in Littleton, Mass., was the top-ranked of the six firms that responded to the airport's request for qualifications. The cargo expansion has been envisioned as part of the airport's $2 billion master plan. Construction could start late next year.
The airport plans to clear the site, remove old pavement, then put in taxiways, connectors, roads and other common-use facilities for potential cargo tenants that could include Amazon, FedEx and UPS, which moved to TIA from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport last year.
Airport officials are working to bring back a contract from their real estate department that addresses Amazon's agreement with TIA, said Jeff Siddle, the airport's vice president of planning and design. The airport's intent, he said, is for Amazon to build its building and related facilities, such as a parking lot. UPS could end up in a building of 20,000 to 30,000 square feet, though that's still under discussion.
Board hedges its bet on a new lobbyist
Uncertainty about the outcome of the Nov. 6 election led the board to give itself some wiggle room as it hired a new state lobbyist.
"We don't know who the next governor is going to be, and the lobbyists who are close to each one of them are completely different," said Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board member and County Commissioner Victor Crist.
"We don't know who the next leadership down the line is going to be in the House and Senate," said Crist, who previously served in both chambers himself. "Right now, we've got to keep ourselves flexible, so that a year from now when ... we have a good idea of what the future's going to look like in the following three years, then we can lock into a long-term decision."
So on a 3-to-1 vote, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn voting no, the board reduced the base contract term for its new lobbyist, the GrayRobinson law firm, from two years to one. The airport will have the option to extend the contract, which is for about $80,000 a year, for another year at a time for up to three years.
The airport went out for bids in April after its contract with The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners expired. Its staff ranked GrayRobinson first, followed by The Advocacy Group; Lewis, Longman & Walker and the Southern Strategy Group.
Board chairman Robert Watkins abstained from voting because a client in his accounting business is a principal at The Advocacy Group.
Contact Richard Danielson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times