Meet the artist behind some of TPA's most iconic concessions

(June 17, 2016) If you’ve ever stopped in one of Tampa International Airport’s shops or restaurants, chances are good you’ve seen the work of Steve Tracy and his crew at Design Specialties Inc. 

The custom finishing and cabinetry company built the shelves at Author’s bookstore in the Main Terminal, the bar at First Flight and all the cases at the Harley Davidson store. They did the finishing work at Green Iguana on Airside E, the Chili’s on Airside F and Shula’s on Airside C. The list goes on.

“I know the Airport a lot better than I probably should,” Tracy joked.

Now Tracy and his small team of skilled craftsmen are back at TPA as a key part of the effort to bring in 65 new shops and restaurants. Based in Tampa, Design Specialties is one of hundreds of local or Florida-based companies participating in the Airport’s expansion and concessions redevelopment program.

Tracy’s firm recently finished up work on Ducky’s, which included installing the bar, the wood work above the bar and working with St. Petersburg artist BASK to install the decorative graffiti panels.

With that project in the books, they are also working on P.F. Chang’s in the Main Terminal and one of the most unique new concepts coming to TPA – the Gasparilla Bar on Airside F, which is set to open this month.

Tracy said he considers the new bar, which mimics a pirate ship, more of an art piece.            

Coming in at 40 feet long, 15 feet wide and 24 feet tall, Tracy’s team is responsible for achieving the proper authentic look for the ship. They built the mast out of curved plywood and the yard arm out of aluminum and then covered it with wood veneer. Coiled around the mast and hanging off the structure is more than 900 linear feet of rope.

The ship’s hull and aerial cross beams are made up of more than 1,000 linear feet of reclaimed oak “to give it the older, worn look,” he said.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to put out a product and have hundreds of thousands of people see it,” he said. “My employees get to share in that pride also.”

Tracy started his career in aviation, working in test engineering for Cessna aircraft in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas – a major center of the U.S. aircraft industry. The job didn’t suit him and he set out to find something that would be a better use of his creativity, artistry and his love of building.

He initially started off building furniture, but decided to broaden out to cabinets and millwork.

Now, he and his company of eight veteran employees do a variety of work, including commercial and high-end residential, building out libraries, installing custom cabinets and adding wine cellars.

He said he loves working at the Airport and all the challenges and rewards that come with working here.

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