One of the most customer-centric airports in the world, Tampa International Airport (TPA) is known for exceeding passenger expectations. TPA was named second-favorite airport in the U.S. in the 2010 Zagat Survey, and ranked No. 3 among midsize airports in J.D. Power and Associates’ 2010 North American Airport Satisfaction Study.
The airport has been on the cutting edge of design and user experience since it opened in 1971, and it’s a tradition that has continued under Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s (HCAA) leadership. GS&P has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with HCAA since 1999, and was selected as part of the DPR design-build team to provide architecture, interior design, signage and engineering services for the interior modernization of Tampa International’s main terminal.
The scope of work for this nearly $26 million effort was performed in three separate phases. Phase 1 included the renovation of public restrooms and the aviation authority’s administrative offices; a new United Service Organization (USO) suite and traveler’s aid counter; new tourism information centers; valet parking upgrades; and signage modifications. Phase 2 comprised ticketing-level wall and floor refurbishment; upgrading the elevator core wall finishes with new glass-wall cladding; the replacement of guardrails at escalator cores; and new furniture at the transfer level. Phase 3 of the modernization included the installation of dynamic signage to enhance wayfinding and passenger access to terminal information.
“This was a unique undertaking because it wasn’t just one project—it involved three separate ‘fast-track’ efforts,” says principal-in-charge Grant Clifford. “And that meant being in lockstep with both the airport and the contractor at all times.”
The client’s overarching goals for the phased project included updating and de-cluttering the terminal environment, reflecting the latest technology, and using materials that capture the essence of the Tampa Bay region. The design team’s primary challenges were to effect significant change while on a budget and an extremely tight time frame, yet not impede optimal service during daily airport operations.
To ensure minimum interruption to operations, critical areas of work were phased and scheduled when airport activity was at its slowest. A significant task during the first phase of construction was to completely gut and rebuild 20 sets of male/female restrooms and 11 family restrooms, distributed over three levels of the main terminal.
“The airport is open 24/7,” says Clifford. “To maintain ongoing operational capacity and provide good customer access during construction, we advised that no more than 25 percent of the restrooms be closed for renovation at any one time. Since the restrooms are stacked vertically in each of the four quadrants of the main terminal, the phasing solution was simply to renovate one vertical stack at a time.”
Each restroom features hands-free hand wash stations, and was completely renovated to maximize space, improve access for disabled customers, and enhance overall functionality for customers with bags in tow. All finishes were replaced, and new lighting, fixtures, accessories and toilet partitions were installed. Warm, inviting materials transformed a previously clinical-looking facility into one with more of a resort feel and relaxed atmosphere. A glass feature wall highlights the essence of the region.
“We sought out images from local photographers, which was a fairly complicated exercise,” notes Clifford. “Rather than commission new photographs, we were tasked with finding existing photos from local photographers that captured the look and feel of the region, and also had the right quality and resolution for such a large display. The results are great—every restroom has a unique image, and the environment is less stressful for the travelling public.”
First phase construction included an upgrade for valet parking that featured new finishes, a new customer service counter and branded glass walls.
“Since the renovation, valet parking business has increased,” says Clifford. “And that just reinforces that when the quality of service improves, the customer will be more willing to pay for the premium service.”
In the baggage claim area, GS&P installed seven large-scale LCD video walls and supporting video-engine technology to allow dynamic advertising and tourism information about the Tampa Bay region. The technical upgrade also included 15 LCD baggage claim device dynamic signs, and 30 LCD advertising screens. Complementing the digital communication platforms, GS&P designed four new information kiosks in the baggage claim areas to improve customer service and visitor outreach.
With three levels of main terminal operations and six levels of short-term parking directly above, TPA’s elevator cores are heavily utilized. Simplifying and streamlining these areas was essential to a more positive customer experience. During the second phase of construction, the elevator cores on all three levels of the main terminal received new custom red and blue glass cladding to cover the dated, glazed brick walls.
“The main terminal is divided into the red side on the north and the blue side on the south, which is a major wayfinding feature,” says Altan Cekin, senior architect and project manager. “On both sides, we updated the cladding on the elevators according to their corresponding colors, resulting in a much cleaner, brighter, more modern appearance.
“The elevators are named after aviation pioneers Yeager, Sikorsky, Earhart and Armstrong, and we designed the signage so the names are removable if the airport ever decides to rebrand them. We also installed new directories and ensured the glass is easily removable for any future updates.”
Opposite the elevators, toward the center of the terminal, lie four sets of escalators whose guardrails on the ticketing and transfer levels were also part of GS&P’s updated design.
“Overhauling the existing guardrails was one of our biggest challenges because they were stone-clad reinforced concrete,” says Clifford. “We had to overcome over 20 unique structural conditions of differing magnitude during the demolition process. Plus, we had to close one bank of escalators at a time for three to four months, and each closure presented a unique wayfinding challenge. Each time one shut down, we had to place temporary signage to divert travelers.”
New tempered low-iron, ultra-clear glass replaced the old guardrails, increasing visibility and openness across each level. Custom stainless steel posts combined with minimally visible attachments on the glass complemented the more modern aesthetic.
The fresh, contemporary look extended beyond the new elevator cores into design choices for more modern furniture and seating areas, which were installed next to each elevator and escalator core throughout the transfer level.
“The big change in furniture was moving from the fixed, high-stool seats and tables to more comfortable lounge chairs,” says Clifford. “The seating is now more relaxed and less cluttered, making it easier to navigate through the transfer level.”
So travelers would no longer be relegated to the far walls to charge their electronic devices, the design team ensured the furniture was equipped with power outlets. The challenge to installing this benefit was how to best wire the new seating configurations.
“We had to come up through the floor, which meant taking apart and putting back the ceilings, which otherwise were not to be touched,” says Clifford. “We also designed power into the base of the guardrails. From the first day the new furniture was open to the public, passengers started migrating there from other areas. So we could instantly see that the comfort and convenience had improved customer service.”
On the ticketing level, new floor tile, carpet and wall panels brightened the overall atmosphere. In high traffic areas floor tile replaced carpet, and around ticketing counters where passengers are more likely to stand and wait, new custom carpet was installed. Laminate wall panels were used to cover existing brick and carpet wall finishes, brightening and simplifying the space along the central corridor and airline ticketing offices.
“We designed custom carpet in beach tones and chose laminate panels in a natural wood color, which resulted in a much warmer overall effect,” says Clifford.
In addition, GS&P renovated existing airline ticketing office space to provide a new USO facility—the country’s first chartered center in almost 20 years—that will welcome an estimated 300,000 military service members annually.
The third phase of construction focused on extensive technical upgrades for dynamic signage and flight information displays (EVIDS) throughout the terminal. Twenty-two flight information display banks on all three levels were replaced with custom, suspended, stainless-steel housings and LCD monitors.
“The previous displays were small, bulky, and located so they blocked views to and from circulation paths around the elevator cores,” says Cekin. “We needed a less obtrusive way to present information. The new screens are bigger, and are positioned in ways that make the surrounding space look more open. The larger text is also easier to read.”
In the automated people mover (APM) lobbies, five new large-scale LED video walls were installed on the transfer level, with information visible from 100 feet away, and legible to customers with 20/40 vision, which was the basis of the design. To replace the previously undersized signage, four additional large-scale video walls were installed above the escalators that descend from the transfer level to baggage claim.
This new technology, however, didn’t come without its challenges; especially when it came to implementation.
“The incorporation of the new technology required a significant investment in supporting equipment, such as servers and video engines at the network operations center,” says Clifford. “Just the technical piece to support the technology upgrades was a multimillion-dollar undertaking.”
Despite the hefty price tag for the latest in technology, GS&P was able to complete the project under budget and ahead of schedule. Monies saved were directed toward a crowning touch to the overall upgrades; an airport gallery to showcase both permanent and visiting exhibitions as well as the airport’s history and master plan for the future. The gallery is located on the transfer level in an underutilized corridor between the terminal and an on-site Marriott.
“We developed a modular approach to the displays, with epoxy terrazzo flooring and a linear wood ceiling to give a showroom feeling. The client loved the design so much they made sure the gallery was funded,” says Clifford. “We hadn’t even designed the gallery when construction started on Phase 3, but it had to be completed by the end of that phase. Even though it was a tight schedule, we made it happen and still ensured a quality project.”
Tampa International Airport currently serves close to 17 million passengers a year, and anticipates 34 million annual passengers by 2041. The main terminal renovations are part of HCAA’s 20-year plan to better serve passengers, airlines and regional tourism. The upgrades also reflect a growing industry trend to transform the traditional airport experience from simply a transit hub to a pleasurable destination for repeat customers.
“I’m thrilled to see people enjoy the upgraded features we created—from the seating to the elevators to the airport gallery,” says Cekin. “The refreshed terminal offers a far more calming and less stressful atmosphere for travelers.”
“The modernization not only offers an enhanced customer experience, but it also gives something special back to the local community, which is very invested in the airport,” adds Clifford.
“They’re extremely proud of their airport. And they sincerely care about the look, feel and overall user experience. When I’m among members of the community, the litmus test is always how they react to the terminal enhancements—and they truly love them.”