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Take a look at the future of Tampa International Airport

This rendering shows the evening view of the west end of Tampa International Airport's expanded main terminal, including the new west terrace that will be added when construction is finished by 2017. [Tampa International Airport]
This rendering shows the evening view of the west end of Tampa International Airport's expanded main terminal, including the new west terrace that will be added when construction is finished by 2017. [Tampa International Airport]
Published Nov. 7, 2014

TAMPA

When Joe Lopano talks about what the Tampa International Airport of the future will look like, he sounds more like a real estate developer than the airport's CEO.

Other times, he sounds like he's planning a romantic evening.

"You have a little something to eat, maybe a glass of wine," Lopano said Thursday. "You watch the sunset. Then you go to the airside and get on your plane.

"It will be completely awesome."

TIA's top executive was showing off architectural renderings of what the airport will look like when its $943 million expansion and renovation project is completed in 2017. TIA officials said the new renderings are very close to what the finished product will look like.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, on Thursday also approved more than $267 million in contracts — nearly a third of the project's total cost — to get much of the construction going in 2015.

"It's a big, audacious plan," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who sits on the aviation board. "It's expensive, but in the long term I think it's the right decision. I think it will allow Tampa International Airport to prosper and grow for decades to come."

The new renderings showed that glass and steel will be added to the concrete exterior that has dominated the airport's architecture since the main terminal opened in 1971.

Skanska USA was awarded the second phase of a contract to gut, expand and renovate the main terminal, adding 55,000 square feet. That contract was worth $32 million. The airport is also taking bids to replace all of the eating, drinking and shopping options inside the new terminal and all the airsides by 2017.

Lopano was particularly enamored with the big outdoor terraces that will be added on the east and west sides of the third-floor transfer level of the expanded terminal. Airport patrons will be able to sit outside and grab a bite while watching the sunset on the new west terrace or stargaze with a glass of wine on the east side.

The east terrace also faces the station for the new automated people mover, or APM. A sweeping roof will rise from the terrace up toward the new station and connect them.

"This is my favorite rendering," Lopano said.

The APM station is a three-story glass-and-steel construction that will connect the terminal to the new 1.4-mile people mover system that will take passengers to the economy parking garage and the new consolidated rental car facility. Also known as the ConRAC, the new 2.6 million-square-foot rental car center will be built south of the main terminal.

Austin Commercial, the Texas firm that already won the contracts to build the rental car center and the concrete pilings and running surface of the APM, was awarded the second phase of that contract, worth $106.1 million.

The biggest contract awarded Thursday was the $129.3 million for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc. to build the new 1.4-mile people mover system. The airport is also buying 12 cars, though only eight will be in circulation when the system is running.

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The contract includes the cost of operating and maintaining the system for five years. But the board authorized the airport to spend up to $197 million to extend the APM's maintenance agreement to 15 years.

In December, construction will begin to affect airport patrons. The taxi and cab stand on the east end will be closed, and passengers will have to catch a ride on the west end.

In January, the east end of the third-floor terminal will be boarded up for construction. During that work, Airsides A and C will have just one tram each running to the terminal. Then in August, both the east and west ends of the terminal will be under construction.

The changes outside the airport will be as substantial as the changes inside. When the new terminal is finished in 2017, it will have a wide-open, airy and sleek feel. The glass walls of the new terraces will bring in light. Concessions will be kept close to the floor and pushed against the walls to open up the entire third-floor terminal.

"But we will not lose that Tampa living room feel, because that's key," Lopano said. "We want to be welcoming and we want everyone to be comfortable."

Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.