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Port wants land from aquarium

Part of the aquarium's parking lot would be used to build another cruise ship terminal.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


TAMPA -- Looking for space to build another cruise ship terminal, the Port of Tampa has been negotiating with the city to buy a waterside chunk of the Florida Aquarium's parking lot.

City officials say the negotiating price hovers in the $8-million range for the purchase of about half of the aquarium's roughly 10-acre lot, and aquarium director Jeffrey Swanagan said he hopes the city will channel some of that profit back into the aquarium itself.

"There's a significant amount of money there," Swanagan said. "If they chose to reinvest a significant portion back into the aquarium, then we're going to be well on our way to the world-class quality everyone wants."

He added: "Obviously it will be disappointing if money flows somewhere else."

Fernando Noriega, the city's administrator of development, said it was too soon to tell.

"Those are things we've got to work out," he said.

Henry Ennis, the city's director of finance, said he expects the deal to be wrapped up within 30 days. "Using that waterfront property for parking is not the most effective use for the property," Ennis said.

Whatever deal is struck between Ennis' staff and the Port of Tampa must be approved by the port board, as well as by Tampa mayor Dick Greco and the city council. Along with his position in the city, the mayor serves on the port board, but he could not be reached Monday to comment on his dual role.

Lori Rafter, spokeswoman for the Port Authority, said the port hopes to add a fourth ship terminal on the site, which might take a year to 18 months to build.

Beyond the proposed terminal, the aquarium is considering plans to use another part of its parking lot to build a rehabilitation and rescue center for sea turtles and seals, said Swanagan, the director. He said aquarium visitors will be able to park in the 2,200-space Port of Tampa garage across the street.

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