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TIA parking surge to force an addition

Tampa International Airport's economy garage is so popular it will soon need a companion.

Published April 4, 2007

Clif Gaus of Anna Maria Island grabs his ticket Tuesday to the economy parking lot at Tampa International Airport. The parking facility has proved very popular with bay area fliers.
[Times photo: John Pendygraft]

TAMPA -- Tampa International Airport finds itself a victim of its own success. Again.

A swift recovery from the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks and year-after-year of record-setting growth forced officials to plan construction of a new terminal complex years before it was anticipated.

Now this: a new parking garage is so popular it has become almost counterproductive, requiring construction of, yes, another parking garage.

It also will mean higher parking fees by summer.

"We built the economy garage to take the pressure off the long-term and short-term garages, and it worked," Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, said Tuesday. "We aren't having to close down the two close-in garages nearly as often.

"The problem is, we've been overly successful."

So Miller will tell his board Thursday that a second economy garage will have to be in place by 2008, two years earlier than planned.

And new parking rates will have to be in place by June in the hope of persuading some Tampa Bay area residents to find alternative ways to get to the airport for those summer vacations.

The board probably won't take action until its June meeting, Miller said.

"We have three peak parking seasons," Miller said. "Four days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, three months of summer. That's when locals go away and leave their cars at the airport. During those periods, the economy garage will overflow."

That's because the price and the convenience make it the best deal at the airport, said Flora Gonzalez, 57, a Tampa housewife, who parked in the economy garage on Tuesday.

Gonzalez, who flies to New York to see her family several times a year, says the short-term lot is too expensive, and the long-term lot too confusing.

"You park, then you've got to find the train to the terminal, or the walkways over, and I can never remember where they are," Gonzalez said.

"Here, you can find a space fast. Buses come all the time to take you to the terminal. Easy. Cheap."

Gonzalez said she would be disappointed if the $7 a day rate increases, but she'll keep parking in the economy garage even if the rate equals the current long-term garage rate of $14 a day.

"It's just better," she said.

Roger Conrad, 54, an accountant from Lakeland, said he has believed from the outset the economy garage rates would go up.

"I've lived in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and my recollection is the rates are a lot higher there," he said. "Let's say I'll be disappointed if I have to pay more, but not surprised."

Miller said TIA's parking rates actually are "significantly lower" than other airports in the state and comparable airports around the country, but he couldn't quantify it immediately.

"We're still pulling all the figures together," he said. "There won't be a huge rate increase. We just have to find a balance so we have the right number of people using long-term and economy, and mostly, that we convince as many people as possible to find other ways to get to the airport."


TIA parking rates

Cell phone lot: Free

Economy garage and lot: $7 a day

Long-term garage: $1.25 an hour to $14 daily max

Short-term garage: $1.25 an hour to $18 daily max

Valet parking: $2 per half hour ($5 minimum); $24 daily max

[Last modified April 4, 2007, 06:05:27]

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