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$500,000-plus incentive OK’d for airport chief

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Published:   |   Updated: April 5, 2013 at 12:55 PM
TAMPA -

The Aviation Authority embraced Tampa International Airport’s future Thursday with a half-million dollar-plus retirement package incentive for Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano and an updated master plan that will change the airport’s goals and landscape.

Lopano promised to remain in Tampa for at least five years as the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board voted 4-1 to amend his contract that adds more than $500,000 in retirement funds if he stays that long.

“You have my commitment,” Lopano said.

Tampa Mayor and aviation authority board member Bob Buckhorn cast the lone dissenting vote, stating briefly that his position over the past year that Lopano should remain under his original contract was widely known.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and Aviation Authority board member Victor Crist, who labeled the incentive concept to encourage Lopano to remain as “brilliant,” said he believed Lopano had the skills and drive to go beyond being a “general manager CEO to an entrepreneurial CEO.

“I want to see that performance,” Crist said. “Or I will be the first to show you the door.”

The 58-year-old Lopano, regarded as an aggressive marketing executive, came to Tampa in January 2011 from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where he was vice president of marketing and terminal management.

That airport is seeking to replace retiring Chief Executive Officer Jeff Fegan, prompting the Hillsborough board’s concerns Lopano could leave, although Lopano has said he neither applied nor was recruited to return to Texas.

When a corporate recruiter doing background checks for Tampa International CEO candidates in 2010 asked Fegan if Lopano could be a potential successor, he responded, “Joe is one of three or four deputies who would be under consideration for the role. The selection would depend on what the board wanted at that time in terms of emphasis.”

Some reports from Texas now indicate a preference for a candidate who would serve a lengthy tenure similar to Fegan’s, who’s been CEO at Dallas/Fort Worth for 19 years.

While the Tampa contract amendment does not bind Lopano from interviewing for other jobs, he said before the board’s vote.

In a post-meeting interview, Lopano responded affirmatively to a direct question about whether he’d stay for five years, adding “You better like me, I’m going to be here.”

Lopano earns a $315,000 base salary, including $65,000 in raises the board voted him in 2012. The contract revision provides that one-third of Lopano’s annual base salary will be set aside and paid off only if he remains with the airport five years from now.

In addition, Lopano’s amended contract eliminated a provision that enabled the board to terminate him without cause with 20 weeks pay.

Board member Joe Diaco said even if that provision had not been in effect in 2010, the board would not have fired without cause Lopano’s predecessor Louis Miller, who was at odds with a new board majority. Miller resigned and became director of the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta.

“If we don’t grow international flights, I’ll fire myself,” Lopano said at a Tampa Tribune editorial board meeting Thursday afternoon, referring to his main service goal.

However, he said the airport’s role is changing – as is aviation industry economics -- and it must produce revenue from non-aviation sources while contributing to regional economic development.

That involves Lopano guiding previously announced proposals in a $2.5 billion long-term master plan update.

By 2017, according to the master plan, the rental car facility would be relocated to the airport’s south side, linked by a 1.3 mile automated people mover to the main terminal.

The people mover could be extended beyond the airport to a West Shore terminal with bus and potential light rail links.

By 2023, the air traffic control tower and main terminal hotel could be relocated to make room to allow the main terminal to handle nearly 35 million annual passengers, 10 million more than originally planned.

Between 2020 and 2028, the Airside C terminal could grow to accommodate possible international flights by Southwest Airlines, and a new Airside D would become the airport’s primary international airside terminal, replacing Airside F which could be too small for that role by then.


tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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