Traffic is increasing at Tampa International Airport, and that has piqued the interest of Pasco County officials.
More than 18 million passengers passed through Tampa International Airport in 2015, nearly 7 percent more than the year before.
Of those travelers, about 8 percent, or 1.6 million, were from Pasco County.
Pasco County commissioners are interested in finding out how to tap into the stream of visitors who arrive in Tampa Bay every year.
On March 8, commissioners heard an update from Joe Lopano, TIA’s chief executive officer, on the master plan to upgrade and expand TIA.
The first phase of a three-phase plan is slated for completion in fall of 2017.
That phase, estimated at $980 million, includes a new rental car center, a new 1.4-mile automated people mover that will connect the rental car facility to the main terminal, and construction of a runway bridge over the George J. Bean Parkway. In addition, the main terminal is being expanded by 55,000 square feet, and 65 shops and restaurants, including Hard Rock Café and P.F. Chang’s, will be upgraded or added to the airport’s amenities.
The total cost of TIA’s upgrades are estimated at about $2.5 billion, with a completion date of 2028.
Phase one is on budget and on schedule, Lopano said.
Construction isn’t all that is driving TIA’s makeover.
A more personal touch also is highlighting the airport’s progress, and its amenities.
About 160 volunteers – some retired airline employees – serve as airport ambassadors who greet and assist passengers.
Pasco officials want to educate those volunteers on what the county can offer tourists. Lopano and Pasco County Tourist Manager Ed Caum briefly discussed a bus tour of Pasco to give the airport ambassadors a first-hand view of Pasco’s current and future destinations.
Among the tour stops could be SunWest Park, the Florida Hospital Center Ice complex under construction at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, Tampa Premium Outlets and The Shops at Wiregrass.
The county’s tourism website also touts restaurants and historical sites throughout the county, as well as the 10 birding stops on the Great Florida Birding Trail, Treehoppers Aerial Adventure Park and the Anclote Key State Park.
Advertising at the airport tends to be expensive and out of the county’s reach, Caum said. But, he plans to explore potential for sharing costs with other partners.
Pasco is coming off a record year for tourism, posting $968,263 in Tourist Tax collections between October 2014 and the end of September 2015. That was a 17 percent increase over the previous year.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than 500,000 visitors to Pasco spent about $466 million. Local sales taxes from those visitors totaled more than $14.9 million. And, tourism created nearly 6,000 full-time employees, with an annual payroll in Pasco of $106.2 million.
The increase in passengers at TIA is in part due to more international flights.
In 2015, Lufthansa German Airlines began flights from Frankfurt to Tampa. Other international destinations are London, Zurich, and Panama City, Panama. Airport officials also are hoping to add commercial flights to Cuba.
“We are an international region,” said Lopano.
And, an economic engine for the region.
The airport employees about 7,500 people, supports another 81,000 jobs indirectly and generates about $7.8 billion in annual economic activity.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells said he appreciated the collaborative way in which TIA officials and the region’s counties are working together on growth and economic issues.
That hasn’t always been the case, he said.
“We’ve never really been together as a region,” Wells said, but he added, “I can see it now.”
Published March 16, 2016