Hundreds gather to break ground on TPA's historic master plan expansion

(November 20, 2014) - More than 500 people gathered under a tent on top of the South Economy Parking Garage at Tampa International Airport on Thursday morning to celebrate the official groundbreaking of TPA's historic master plan expansion project.

Board members at groundbreaking ceremony

A host of dignitaries, including Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board members, airport officials and staff, builders, elected officials and community leaders, all came together to plunge ceremonial gold shovels into dirt and launch what is the biggest construction project at TPA in more than 40 years.

"We're about to transform an airport that has helped transform our community," said Airport CEO Joe Lopano. "We are so lucky to be right here, right now."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that Tampa and the airport's time has arrived.

"This is a world-class airport and what's going to happen here today and over the next couple of years will seal our place on that international stage," he said. 

The project, which costs $943 million and will be completed by 2017, will expand the main terminal, move rental car operations outside of the vicinity of the terminal and create a new 1.4-mile people mover to connect the new facilities. It will also widen an overpass over the George J. Bean Parkway, eventually allowing the roadway to expand.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in a letter read to the group, said this expansion will help bring in more visitors and that means more jobs for Floridians.

"This expansion not only helps TIA, one of the world's premier airports, but also increases passenger capacity and creates opportunities for Florida's families," he said. "Every 85 visitors to our state creates one job for Floridians." 

The master plan expansion is expected to create or save 9,000 construction-related jobs. It will also create more than 1,000 new permanent jobs.

"The economic impact of this project cannot be overstated," Rep. Dana Young told the group.

Sen.  Arthenia Joyner, a former Aviation Authority board member, said the project will have a tremendously positive impact on minority and women owned businesses.

"The one commitment that this airport has always had is to be very inclusive and to make sure that minorities and women have a fair shot and an equal opportunity," she said.

The first phase of the master plan project includes a commitment to direct $122 million to minority and disadvantaged businesses. It will also support local businesses. Half of the 72 subcontractors so far are from Tampa or Florida companies.

Aviation Authority Chairman Robert Watkins said he felt lucky to be part of such a remarkable group during this remarkable time, giving credit to a long list of visionaries that came before him.

"We wouldn't be here without the vision of the leaders who came before us," he said.

Watkins said that when the airport opened, TPA served 3.4 million passengers each year. Within 10 years of the new terminal opening, that number had more than doubled to 7.1 million.

"The expansion that we're doing the groundbreaking for today is also intended to double capacity of this airport," he said. The airport currently serves 17 million passengers a year. 

Passengers and guests will begin to see the first changes in early December as TPA begins the expansion of the main terminal to the east. 

To follow the progress of the expansion project and stay up-to-date on travel impacts, go to or follow us on Facebook or Twitter at @FlyTPA.

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