Tampa International Airport's flight to the future

The history of Tampa International Airport has some twists and turns. The airport could have been where USF is today, or T.I.A. could have even been built in Pinellas County, in which case it wouldn't be T.I.A. 

But, when Hillsborough County and Tampa officials began looking at futuristic plans in the late 1960's, it set a course for the airport as we know it today. 

"It looked so different to us because it was nothing we had seen or were familiar with, but it made sense," recalled former Tampa mayor Dick Greco.

It was a design with the terminal separated from the airsides, connected by an automated "people mover." 

The new airport rose from the site of a World War II airbase, Drew Field.

"If Drew Field hadn't been built, Dale Mabry wouldn't even exist. It was built to connect directly to MacDill Air Force Base," explained local military historian Denny Cole. 

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But, before you imagine Tampa without Dale Mabry, imagine Tampa International Airport across the bay. 

"St. Pete-Clearwater Airport would likely be our T.I.A.," said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator at Tampa Bay History Center. 

Kite-Powell says Hillsborough County leaders thought about building T.I.A. in the USF or Busch Gardens area. 

"But they got wind that Pinellas wanted to have an international airport. They said if we put our airport close to Pinellas County's border, maybe we'll be the one to get it and Pinellas County won't," continued Kite-Powell.

Tampa built the futuristic airport on the Drew Field site, dedicated in 1971.  According to many surveys, the airport has been consistently rated one of the best of its size in the country. 

"We didn't know exactly what it would look like, but it exceeded all expectations," added Greco.