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Tampa airport's prime concessionaire to lay off 796 workers

TAMPA — Nearly 800 restaurant and retail workers will be laid off at Tampa International Airport this fall, but officials say most of them will be rehired as part of the airport's $953 million renovation plan.

The airport's current prime concessionaire, HMS Host, was required to report to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity this week that its 796 employees will face layoffs at the airport in September and October as its current contract with the airport expires.

Though 796 employees is an eye-popping number — it's the largest announced layoff in Florida so far this year — officials with Host and TIA say it's misleading to think that many people will be left without a paycheck.

"HMS Host's plan is to retain as many associates as possible for the number of positions we will have moving forward at Tampa International Airport — some of our restaurants will continue operating and some new ones will open," said Sarah Cody, a company spokeswoman.

Some of HMS Host's existing employees will keep their jobs through 2016, as some airport businesses won't close before the end of the year. Others will transition to jobs at new restaurants and retailers that are replacing the current stores and restaurants.

"We are closing stores in phases over the next few months to do it in a way that makes sense for our customers," said Emily Nipps, an airport spokeswoman. "We don't want to close every option for coffee in Airside C at the same time."

The airport and new concessionaire companies plan to host several job fairs this year and encourage existing airport employees to interview for new positions. "We should have more new jobs available than the number of employees working for Host right now," Nipps said.

Even though HMS Host will no longer be the airport's prime concessionaire, it will operate 14 new restaurants — including Burger 21, the Columbia Restaurant, Gasparilla Bar, P.F. Chang's and Starbucks — when the renovations are complete. Several kiosks in airside terminals, like Nathan's Hot Dogs and Kiehl's, have closed already to make room for construction. The airport's shoe-shining station has also closed.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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