Building demolition causes stir at Aviation Authority meeting

01/07/10 Arielle Stevenson
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Frost forced delays on seven flights Thursday at the Tampa International Airport. But it was the imminent demolition of an airport owned building which caused heated debate inside. The Hillsborough Aviation Authority board members voted 3-1 against halting demolition of Continental Airline’s former reservation center. Louis Miller, airport and aviation authority executive director, contracted the demolition. But Steve Burton, newcomer to the aviation board says the board should have been fully informed on the issue. Burton also asked that demolition be halted until a full analysis is given to the board.

The building became vacant when Continental’s lease came up for renewal. The St. Petersburg Times reported yesterday that there was a 44% hike in Continental’s rent which could have contributed to them vacating the site. A disagreement began when Miller interrupted Burton and said Burton was uniformed on the issue.

But according to Miller, a bad economy left few tenants looking to rent and his staff determined that the building should be demolished because the costs of necessary improvements were more than the building’s value. Burton says the documents Miller gave him on the issue clearly state the rent was being raised.

The aviation authority had required that all airport property demolitions be approved by the board. Gigi Rechel, the board’s director of legal affairs, says that Miller was given the power to approve property demolitions in 2007 during a series of multiple demolitions in Drew Park.

But a possible conflict of interest arose when board chair Al Austin was the only member consulted on Miller’s decision. Austin also owns almost 400,000 square feet of property adjacent to the vacant site. Austin says he agreed on with Miller’s decision.

Board member Dr. Joseph Diaco says that this decision falls under Miller’s job description and the board should accept his judgment. But Burton says the issue is a lack of information.

A contractor was hired for $79,000 to complete the demolition and a new hangar has been proposed for the site. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who serves on the board voted against halting the demolition. She recommended that future demolitions require board approval. Burton was the only member who voted to halt the demolition. The motion will require Miller to provide a full analysis report on the site for the Aviation Authority.

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