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Port of Tampa floats long-range plans

The authority's 10-year wish list includes new terminals and a hotel complex.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
The container ship M/V Americana makes its first scheduled call to the Port of Tampa on Tuesday.

By SCOTT BARANCIK

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


TAMPA -- With the blare of a foghorn, the Tampa Port Authority began construction of a second cruise ship terminal Tuesday and shared its 10-year wish list for the slowly developing Channelside area.

Among the proposals described: a third and fourth cruise terminal, an expansion of the Florida Aquarium, a high-tech conference center and hotel complex, space for restaurants and a narrow band of greenery to soothe the pedestrian soul. Some of the proposals have been discussed previously, but port officials said this was the first time they were presented as a single vision.

Port chairman Fassil Gabremariam said the plan envisions cruise ships lined up "tail fin to tail fin" and would help build tourism in the bay area. Others praised the plan for facilitating a long-sought-after pedestrian thoroughfare from Bayshore Boulevard into downtown Tampa.

"This is an integral part (of the plan) to connect downtown with Ybor City," said Bob Nathan, vice president of Moffatt & Nichol Engineers of Tampa, which is helping the port manage its redevelopment project.

The so-called "master plan" is far from a sure thing. With the exception of the new terminal, which is scheduled for completion next year, none of the proposed projects is funded, though aquarium executive director Jeffery Swanagan said his group is well on its way.

Indeed, a number of developer proposals enthusiastically embraced by the port during the 1990s were subsequently scuttled. Among them: the Whydah pirate ship museum, the Deuteron entertainment complex and several music amphitheaters.

"Obviously, the port entertains a variety of ideas, some of which will come to fruition and some of which won't," spokeswoman Lori Rafter said.

But Rafter said the port is putting its money where its mouth is. It has committed more than $80-million to the development of Channelside, including the forthcoming cruise terminal.

Perhaps most promising is the expansion planned by the aquarium. Swanagan said a $1-million program called Explore-a-Shore, to be constructed by 2003, is about 80 percent funded. He described it as an aquatic version of a petting zoo.

Another project, the $10-million Aquatic Rescue Center, or ARC, will feature injured animals such as sea turtles being treated, and in some cases released, by veterinary staff, and captive breeding of monk seals and other wildlife. Swanagan said that project is nearly 50 percent funded.

Other aspects of the 10-year plan are less certain in their financing. These include a $239-million hotel-and-convention-center complex proposed by Murray Klauber, founder of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort in Longboat Key.

But Klauber, too, is letting money talk. He reportedly has made non-refundable deposits totalling $500,000 to secure space on the 37-acre Channelside redevelopment site.

Rafter said, "We've prepared these artist renderings with our vision of what we'd like the area to look like in the future, and we're going to do our best to move toward that goal."

Also Tuesday, port board members blessed a deal that will give control of the area's largest shipyard to the owner of an Alabama shipyard.

Board members balked last month when the two owners of Tampa Bay Shipbuilding & Repair Co. asked them to approve the sale of a majority interest to Tom Bender Jr.

Bender, owner of Bender Shipbuilding & Repair in Mobile, Ala., formed a 50-50 partnership in 1997 with Aaron Hendry, owner of Gulf Marine Repair in Tampa, to buy the yard and assume its lease with the port.

Hendry wanted to sell Bender 1 percent of his stake, but they needed the approval of the port board under the shipyard lease.

Board members were worried Bender would steer ship jobs away from Tampa to his yard in Mobile. But Bender gave them projections that local revenues would rise from $32.4-million for the year ended Feb. 28 to $36.5-million over the next two years.

"It does appear that with the unification of the two businesses under one helm, that there is the potential for much of the work to take place in Tampa," board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Frank said. Her motion to approve the sale passed.

- Staff writer Steve Huettel contributed to this report. Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

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