Tampa Int’l Accomplishes Major Updates on a Minor Budget

Jennifer Bradley
Published in: 

From new restrooms and giant video walls to updated architectural finishes, Tampa International Airport (TPA) has undergone a gradual yet comprehensive transformation during the last four years. Now that its $23 million Main Terminal Modernization Project is complete, it may be more accurate to refer to the Florida airport as “43 years young” rather than 43 years old.


Project: Main Terminal Modernization

Location: Tampa (FL) Int’l Airport

Owner: Hillsborough County Aviation Authority

Cost: $23 million

Process: Design/build

Main Contractor: DPR Construction

Design & Engineering: Gresham, Smith & Partners

Restrooms Rebuilt: 31 (including 11 family rooms on all 3 levels)

LCD Flight Information Displays: 22

LCD Video Walls: 16

LCD Signs & Advertising Screens: 45

LED Signs: Gable Signs

Seating: Agati; Coalesse; Teknion

The project was already included in TPA’s 20-year capital program when Joe Lopano arrived in 2011, but the airport’s new chief executive officer helped bring the project to the next level, says Jeff Siddle, assistant vice-president of Planning and Development for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. (The authority owns and operates four airports, including TPA.)

“He wanted it to be a real stand-out for our airport,” says Siddle.

With big aspirations and a tight construction schedule butting against the Republican National Convention set for August 2012 in Tampa, the airport implemented a design/build approach and hired the firms of Gresham, Smith and Partners (GS&P) and DPR Construction to see the project through. Crews began work in December 2011. 


Four separate projects were completed in three phases, as laid out by GS&P:

  • complete renovation and modernization of 31 restrooms
  • new tile flooring in Ticketing
  • main terminal refurbishment (new seating, technology, finishes, etc.)
  • new digital signage throughout three levels of the main terminal

Siddle notes that the bathrooms were one of the largest pieces of the project — and in general, are elements that have a strong influence on passengers’ overall impression of an airport. “It’s important for us to put a lot of quality into the restrooms with regard to materials and finishes — which all still fall under the umbrella of affordability; and to have the restrooms be a true impression of our community, which has always been rated as one of the best in the world,” he says.

Crews completely reconstructed 10 restrooms from early April to August 2012, finishing just in time for the Republican National Convention. Siddle considers overhauling so many restrooms in such little time one of the biggest accomplishments of the overall project. “The team went through a massive work effort to rebuild those, and it was pretty incredible,” he explains.

Visitor Information Centers and video walls were also added in Baggage Claim to serve the convention traffic. Later, crews installed new furniture with power outlets and work surfaces.

On all three levels of the terminal, TPA replaced 22 flight information boards with flat-screen, LED displays on suspended stainless steel housings. It also installed 16 large LCD video walls, new LED signs at escalators and shuttle lobbies and 45 LCD signs and screens that show paid advertisements and area tourism videos.

Previously, TPA had not done much in terms of advertising; but the new video walls have been a boost to the bottom line, reports Siddle. Old static displays in Baggage Claim were swapped out for new, more modern styles that provide an updated look and feel, he explains.

Finish materials were another emphasis of the modernization project. Tile flooring replaced carpeting in the ticketing area; and the elevator cores on all three levels received new red and blue glass cladding to cover the 1971 vintage glazed brick walls. The glass railings that replaced the stone guardrails near the escalators drastically improved the look of the building, as did the new flooring and wall panels in the ticketing area, says Siddle.

Updating so many finishes in busy passenger areas was disruptive — especially removing the brick guardrails, he acknowledges. But he’s also confident the renovation process worked well because of teamwork and advance planning.

Design-Build Devotees

Brian Robbins, project manager at DPR, was involved in all phases of TPA’s multi-year modernization efforts and was one of two on-site project managers. Robbins attributes the success of the project to two main factors: the design team looking for existing components that could remain in place or be incorporated into the new design; and the DPR team being active in the design process, providing feedback on construction and costs before plans were finalized.

Siddle agrees with his observation. “The only way we could have done this successfully is under the design-build delivery mechanism,” he notes. “It’s been quite a success story for us from a financial perspective and scheduled delivery; and it was generally a small budget.”

Involving the contractor from “day one” guided the project toward affordability, but also ensured that it was constructed and phased properly, he elaborates. “That, in itself, was one of the major takeaways from this for us,” Siddle reflects. “It actually validated our delivery method.” 

Although countless problems can arise during a construction project, Robbins says that the best tool for dealing with them is a design-build team of architects, engineers and builders working together to resolve and minimize issues.

Grant Clifford, principal-in-charge at GS&P, concurs with his team members. “To be able to do this work as fast as we did, it really had to be through a design-build process,” he says. “The airport, contractor and designer have to work hand-in-hand.”

The TPA team discussed phasing and scheduling extensively, much to the benefit of the bottom line, he adds. “Having a team that knows how to do that is vital, because 1) you need to have a plan to keep the airport opened normally and 2) if you don’t have a plan, how do you bid the work and get a fair price? You have to create a fair environment for the sub-contractors,” Clifford emphasizes. 

Savings derived from using the design-build process was used to fund a new art gallery located in a long, linear space that connects TPA’s main terminal and the adjoining Marriott Hotel. The idea for the new feature began when Chris Minner, the airport’s vice president of marketing, asked GS&P to create a space to showcase the Tony Jannus Trophy and travelling art exhibits.

The Jannus Award commemorates the first commercial flight in the United States, piloted by Tony Jannus in 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa, FL, explains Clifford. TPA’s new gallery allowed it to commemorate the flight’s 100th anniversary last year with a lasting tribute. 

“We were somewhat apprehensive about showing such a significant design to the airport, not knowing if there was the budget and if the desire was to truly build a gallery or a trophy case,” Clifford recalls. “The airport loved the design for the gallery and set about finding the funds to build the gallery, which would become another community gem for thousands of local school children and travelers connecting to and from the terminal.”

Two large 3-D models of the airport have become the focal point of the gallery’s master plan section.

Doing More With Less

Clifford summarizes the overall results of TPA’s modernization project as “lifting the face of the facility” — both aesthetically and technologically.

“The terminal was starting to show some age,” he relates. “And for the scale of this airport, it was a relatively small project in terms of dollars spent.” (GS&P is also currently involved with the airport’s longer-term billion-dollar expansion project.)

During the recently completed modernization project, engineers and designers had to overcome about 20 structural conditions, but the most challenging obstacle was installing the glass handrails around the terminal’s escalators, says Clifford. The banks had to be shut down one at a time to replace the stone walls with new glass material.  

Robbins agrees with Clifford’s pick: “Many of the evening construction zones turned into the main corridors for the public during the day; so it was paramount to maintain coordination, phasing and communication.”

One of the toughest aspects of the process was relaying extensive coordination instructions to the night crew, he explains. To help bridge the gap, DPR deployed a swing shift employee, who worked half of his shift during the day and the other half at night. This helped ensure consistent communication, explains Robbins.  

After working with TPA for so long, Clifford notes that the community surrounding Tampa’s main airport is very vested in it. “Anyone would be happy to tell you it’s one of the best in the world,” he reports. “We’re not only enhancing the customer experience, we’re also giving something back to the community every time we work on it. We live and work here, too; so we’re just as vested.”

New USO Lounge Gives Military Travelers a Warm Tampa Welcome

Adding a United Service Organization (USO) Welcome Center at Tampa International (TPA) was important to Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano from the very beginning of the airport’s terminal modernization program. And with help from its main contractor, DPR Construction, TPA was able to renovate a former airline ticketing office into a new lounge for active and retired military travelers and their families.

“Our board was behind it 100 percent,” recalls Jeff Siddle, assistant vice-president of Planning and Development with the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. “It was very exciting. Our community rallied behind this; we just provided the space and constructed it for them at no cost.”

DPR, in turn, donated $13,000 from funds raised at its annual charity golf tournament. “We at DPR view USO as an integral part of the community,” explains Brian Robbins, project manager with the firm.

As home to MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa has a strong military presence and spirit, notes Grant Clifford, principal-in-charge at Gresham, Smith and Partners. While the new USO center will serve military travelers for years to come, it’s especially important now, because MacDill has served as the command center for the wars in the Middle East, notes Clifford.

TPA’s new USO lounge provides a private place for military personnel and their families to relax when traveling through the airport. Its amenities include free Internet, television, a reading room, and complimentary food and drinks. 




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