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TIA's gleaming new space

Tampa International Airport shows off Airside C, the spacious, high-tech new home for four airlines. Officials say the new facility will mean more comfort and shorter lines for travelers.

Published April 16, 2005

[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
Visitors to the new Airside C at Tampa International Airport are greeted by a giant painting of the old Tampa Airport. The painting is by Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still. The new building contains elements of ceramic, terrazzo, carpet, tile, stone, metal, glass and walnut.

Among Airside C's amenities is a kids' play area that features heavily cushioned carpet and three toy replicas of vintage aircraft large enough for children to sit in.
Southwest Airlines employees Mark Holm and Kimberly Callender practice using an electronic marquee, which will be used to give passengers flight information at gates inside the new Airside C.

TAMPA - Rick DeLisi could barely contain his enthusiasm.

"This is incredible, fantastic, like a low-fare outlet mall," said DeLisi, communications director for Independence Air, based in Washington, D.C. The airline is one of four low-fare carriers that will begin operations next week out of Tampa International Airport's new Airside C.

Most impressive, DeLisi said, is that the carriers are not being asked to work out of a low-rent facility.

"To be able to serve customers out of this magnificent space is way beyond what anybody could have expected," DeLisi said.

The new building, the largest of TIA's five airsides, offers free wireless internet, touch-screen directions to just about everything, a kids' play area, smoking porches, four restaurants, original artwork and windows everywhere that overlook a runway.

The facility was undergoing last-minute touchups to ceiling tiles, artwork and a few counter areas Friday when it opened for inspection by airport and airline employees and the media. It will be open todayfor the public.

An open house from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. will be the only opportunity nonpassengers will have to go beyond security and see the new airside. The terminal will be sealed after grand-opening ceremonies on Monday, which will be attended by Gov. Jeb Bush and Adm. David Stone, head of the Transportation Security Administration.

After a security sweep, the first Southwest Airlines flights will begin arriving Tuesday night.

Once Airside C is fully operational, the oldest airside, D, will be closed and the space abandoned until airport growth requires a new gate area there, too. For the time being, at least, airside construction is finished.

Southwest, which is moving to Airside C from Airside A, will occupy 12 of the 16 gates, with Independence, Spirit and Midwest Airlines using three. One gate is reserved for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and charter aircraft. It will be capable of handling the new Airbus A380, a giant four-engine aircraft capable of seating 555 passengers on two decks.

Airside C, which is shaped like an aircraft wing, is a mosaic of textures. Passengers leaving the double shuttles from the Landside terminal are confronted by bare concrete walls. Some visitors Friday thought the walls simply weren't finished, but that's the way they will remain. Columns in the airside also are bare concrete.

The building contains elements of ceramic, terrazzo, carpet, tile, stone, metal, glass and walnut.

"Not everybody likes everything," said Albert Alfonso, the architect who designed the building. "But it's evoking a dialogue, and that's a good thing. What we were going for is social space that invites people to walk around and gives them ample opportunity to see the airplanes. We really focused on the perimeter glass wall."

But with the exception of one employee who said he didn't like the carpet, no dissenting words were heard Friday.

"It's a great, wide-open space with high ceilings, not claustrophobic like Airside D," said Thomas Yuratick, a ramp worker for AirTran, which will be moving from Airside D to Airside A once Southwest relocates.

"Airside A is fine," Yuratick said. "Anything's better than D, the ghetto of all airsides. It's small and cramped and the building's kind of falling apart."

Randy Gillespie, the property manager for Southwest who flew in from Dallas and was serving packages of free peanuts to the crowd, expressed satisfaction with his airline's new digs.

"What's not to like?" Gillespie said. "It's fantastic. I never thought I'd hear myself saying that the security area is gorgeous, but it is."

The 10 security lanes should go a long way toward easing the long waits at checkpoints that Airside A passengers experienced at peak flight times.

The restaurants are Chili's Too, Chili's To Go, Starbucks Coffee and the Tampa Bay Home Team Sports Bar & Grill.

A kids' play area features heavily cushioned carpet with padded banks of clouds, suitable for climbing on and rolling over, and three toy replicas of vintage aircraft large enough for children to sit in. The area also has places for parents to sit and watch the children play.

Airside C is the first "hot spot" at TIA, offering free wireless internet accessibility anywhere in the building.

The other airsides and the main terminal will offer the same service by the end of the year, said Louis Miller, executive director of the aviation authority.

The airside also has four touch-screen information kiosks and offers two outdoor smoking porches.

Miller, who said he wanted those designing the new terminal to be free of traditional thinking about airport gate space, spent much of Friday giving personal tours to visitors.

He stopped for a moment to take it all in.

"I'm happy," Miller said. "I'm very, very happy."



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The new airside will be open to the public today from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visitors are asked to park in the short-term parking garage. There is no charge. When you leave the garage you will get a free pass. The entrance to Airside C is on the third level. Take the shuttle to the new facility as if you were flying out.

[Last modified April 16, 2005, 06:22:58]

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