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Tampa International Airport expansion plans rise to $4.1B

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport is poised to undergo its most radical changes and extensive construction since the main terminal opened in 1971.

A new $2.5 billion master plan will prepare the airport to handle more passengers, more flights and more traffic for the next two decades.

Airport officials Thursday unveiled how they will pay for that. But they also revealed another plan, and another price tag:

The airport also expects to spend an additional $1.6 billion maintaining and repairing existing airport facilities and infrastructure in the years to come.

All told, Tampa International projects it eventually will spend $4.1 billion in the coming decades to modernize, upgrade and maintain the airport.

"Our job is to make sure we're years head of the curve," said chief executive officer Joe Lopano, "and not kicking the can five to 10 years down the road to maintain the great airport we have."

Airport officials presented their new strategic business plan — the blueprint to pay for all this — to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority's governing board and the public during a meeting Thursday at the airport.

Damian Brooke, airport vice president of business planning and information technology, assured the board and audience that it can afford both plans.

"The authority is in excellent shape," Brooke said, "and we will still be in excellent financial shape after the completion of the master plan."

But officials also stressed that much of that $4.1 billion in spending is projected to occur over at least two decades. So far the airport has decided only to go through with the first phase of the master plan, which calls for nearly $1 billion in construction through 2017. The exact time line and spending figures for future airport maintenance projects were not revealed.

Brooke said that in building its business plan, the airport calculated alternate scenarios that could affect financial projections, such as a total loss of state funding and a "9/11" type event that could severely impact air travel.

The cost of the first phase is $943 million. It calls for a 2.3 million-square-foot consolidated rental car facility south of the main terminal. It will be connected to the airport by a 1.3-mile automated people mover.

By moving car rental facilities out of the main airport, officials hope to reduce traffic, extend the life of the airport's roads and create more space in the main terminal and parking garage. That also will coincide with expanding and remaking all of the airport's concession areas in the terminal and airsides.

The airport hopes it will get $272 million from the Florida Department of Transportation to pay for the first phase. But 65 percent of the cost will be financed: the airport plans to raise $616 million in new bonds. The new debt will be serviced by fees already tacked on to car rentals and plane tickets.

The airport collects the federally mandated passenger facility charge (or PFC) fee of $4.50, earmarked for airport construction. But the airport also charges a $2.50 consolidated facility charge (or CFC) for on-airport car rentals. The airport is set to double that to $5 in April.

Airport officials said the CFC fee will still be less than that charged by other airports, such as the $8 fee levied at Chicago O'Hare International.

As for the rest of the $2.5 billion master plan, Lopano said those decisions will be made years from now — and that the next phases of airport construction will be built only if the number of passengers and flights justifies it.

"We would not entertain those phases," he said, "unless we are very successful."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, or @jthalji on Twitter.