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City seeks ideas for port revival
By Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer
Published Friday, March 14, 2008 7:52 PM


This rendering shows how a marina for mega-yachts might look at the Port of St. Petersburg. It’s just one idea being kicked around.
[Special to the Times]

Desperate to turn its struggling deepwater port into a viable money-making venture, city officials will seek ideas from the public this week.

The city's longtime dream to turn the Port of St. Petersburg into a cruise ship hub took a major blow last April when engineers said the transformation could cost at least $72-million. Since then, city officials say they have wrestled over what their next step should be.

"It is prime waterfront property. We just need to find the best use for it," said Walt Miller, the city's port and marina director.

The public input session starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the port at 250 Eighth Ave. SE. The city can accommodate 100 participants.

State and federal agencies, such as the Florida Wildlife Research Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, now line the port, along with a major U.S. Coast Guard base and a marine hub for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Mega-yachts owned by two of the world's richest men — Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Russian oil baron Roman Abramovich — have been temporarily moored at the port in recent weeks, where they are being stocked for future voyages.

Continuing to reach out to mega-yachts and marine research groups might be the best bet, city leaders said. Other potential uses being proposed: a small cruise ship port, a traditional marina, an entertainment center with retail and restaurants, or a ferry service dock.

"However, the most important thing is to get the public's input on what they think the port should be," Miller said.

The port, the smallest of Florida's 14, has been somewhat of a burden on the city in recent years.

It earned less than $130,000 in 2007. The city had to cover the rest of its $658,000 total operating costs that year.

"It's potential has never been met," council Chairman Jamie Bennett said.

The port was founded in the 1920s as an industrial terminal. The Coast Guard established a base a few years later, and during World War II a Merchant Marine training center had the port humming.

Cruise activity took off at the port in the 1970s but never flourished.

In 1991, the port lost its last cruise ship when the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ruled Sea Escape Cruises' foreign crews could not use Tampa Bay as a home port, effectively ending the city's tumultuous four-year history with the cruise-to-nowhere company.

A gambling boat venture ended just as badly. After opening to great fanfare in October 2004, the Ocean Jewel quickly became a black eye for the city after the Coast Guard uncovered several safety violations on the casino ship, among other problems.

In recent years, marine research has played a significant role in charting the port's future. SRI International announced it would build a new marine research facility at the port in 2006.

The city tore down the port's last remaining warehouse to make way for the site, which further curtailed the harbor's moneymaking capabilities. Area companies had rented out the warehouse for storage.

Despite a long history of hiccups, area leaders have never tired of trying to come up with ideas for the port.

Bobby Spaeth, owner of Madeira Beach Seafood, said he is eager to see the port be converted into an outdoor fish market.

"A fisherman's wharf would give people something to do downtown," he said. "You could sell ice and fuel to the fisherman to make money."

Council member Earnest Williams said the city should reconsider dredging the port to accommodate large cruise ships.

"We just need to stay at it. It could be a tremendous economic driver," he said.

But Jack Tunstill, chairman of the Albert Whitted Advisory Committee and a flight instructor at the airport, said the city needs to move on.

"A cruise port it is not," he said. "I have been here for 20 years, and nothing that has come into the port has stayed. The Sea Escape, the Ocean Jewel. None of that stuff has worked."

To learn more about the port or to register to attend the public input session, call the city's marina at (727) 893-7329.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or [email protected].





>>By the numbers

Port of St. Petersburg

$129,000

How much the port earned in 2007.

$788,000

Total port operating costs in 2007.

$2.83-million

How much the city has lost on the port since 2000.

$2.69-million

What the city has received in state and federal grants to improve the port since 2000.

[Last modified Monday, March 17, 2008 5:25 PM]

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article417811.ece
 

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The small cruise port hasn't worked for years. They should just expand the marina/yacht club to the port area. They should include the large docks for mega-yachts. Having a small airport directly across the street is a huge asset for high net worth types. They could park their boats there, fly in, walk across the street get on the boat and sail to wherever they wanted. They could expand the hangers at AW so these folks could service/store their aircraft while they are yachting in the Carribean. Its a natural and would be a lot more successful than small cruise ships.

The cruise industry is heading toward ultra huge ships or smaller very luxurious cruises. Unfortuately, its a 36-48 hour sail to anything worth seeing on a small cruise ship. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale is better positioned for that. We have a good base of fairly wealth folks, lets build upon that and really have something special as opposed to beating a dead horse.
 

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^^Basically I agree turn it into some kind of marina or Yatch type place as its not a large port and with the Port of Tampa not far away there is little chance, but this idea has a nice chance!
 

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The local fishing industry is dying though. The only the thing that continues to struggle along are the charter boat captains. The commercial fleets have been decimated by: high fuel costs, closing of the grouper season, restrictions on other species, and all together now insurance. The docks on Mad Beach weren't doing very well last time I checked (3 years ago), and that was a major (for the area) commercial fishing dock.

I would just hate to see us chase another dying industry. The small cruise ship market is very small and very exclusive. There is nothing in the area that would attract that type of vessel. People who cruise on lines like The Yachts of Seabourn want to see something interesting and exotic. So generally that is not going to happen. I don't see commercial fishing becoming a big draw.

Outdoor markets in Florida suck for seven months of the year. Who wants to see and smell rotting fish (I know it'll be A/C'ed somehow). Another problem is that it would be a car trip from the main attractions in downtown St. Pete. I've worked in Hyde Park village and been in DT St. Pete enough to notice that the streets are pretty deserted from about Mid-May through early October. People don't like walking around and sweating, unless its the beach. People tend to run to the mall or beach for most of the year. That is a significant part of the year, and as soon as the vendors at this market notice that the place is drying up in late spring, they are gone and probably won't come back (see Hyde Park Village as an example).

At least by creating a super marina the city's ROI would be year round. There has been a statewide loss of slips in recent years due to the Condo boom (marina conversions to condos), this is an excellent opportunity to capitalize on this. The city could set aside space for say 6-10 mega yachts and then the rest could be floating or fixed docks/slips for the public. Its like printing money because most boat users don't use their boats nearly as much as they think they will.
 

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Dan, for the most part I agree. I think that a public marina would be a great idea. Tampa really could use more nice marinas, pehaps they could add a nice seafood restaurant too, that would be fitting for the area. A great program would be inexpensive sailing lessons for children....

Steve
 

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I agree that if nothing else works out, then build a huuuge ass public marina, with space for a few of those huge yachts to moor, build some boat storage on land, fueling stations, repair, maybe even some yacht sales or something along those lines.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Nearly 80 hear options for St. Petersburg's deep-water port
By Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer
Published Friday, March 21, 2008 4:26 PM

It is one of the city's oldest economic ventures. It is also one of its least successful.

Hoping to change that, city officials took advice on future options for St. Petersburg's struggling deep-water port at a community forum Tuesday.

The event drew nearly 80 people to the 80-year-old port.

City officials began by introducing several options, including facilities for mega yachts, small cruise vessels, marine education, entertainment or retail and a fish market.

Some residents said they were eager for the port to become a more welcoming facility, with restaurants and entertainment venues.

"This area belongs to the citizens; we should make it accessible to the citizens," said former council member Virginia Littrell, who advocated for a multiuse site that would include dock slips for mega yachts and ferry boats.

Others urged city officials to seek professional advice.

"Clearly we need to build for the future and think ahead," said architect Fred Russell. "Let's keep it flexible. Who knows what will happen 20 years from now?"

The city wants to update the port's 1999 master plan and turn the facility into a profitable venture. A draft of the revised master plan should be completed by May, when it will be submitted to the City Council for approval or further direction, port manager Walt Miller said.

In recent years, the port had been targeted as a cruise ship site, but that plan has been tabled because of financial concerns.

The port, the smallest of Florida's 14, has been somewhat of a burden on the city in recent years.

It earned less than $130,000 in 2007. The city had to cover the rest of its $658,000 total operating costs that year.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or [email protected].

[Last modified Friday, March 21, 2008 4:26 PM]

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article427300.ece
 

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If they expand it enough to allow normal cruise ships to come and go, it could work. Considering how limited the cruise options are from Port of Tampa, it would be nice to have another port in the Bay area.
 

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^^
I agree Jason. And actually, I heard something through the media a few years ago that the Port of Tampa will be forced to become a secondary port of call somewhere by 2030 or 2040 due to the larger cruise ships that are being built that CAN'T fit under the skyway. Miami, Cape Canaveral, and Jax will all permanently stay steps ahead of Tampa by that stage in other words.
 

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The Skyway is actually one of the reasons we will never catch up as a significant container port either. Its too low. I'm sure Carnival isn't going to toss away the ships now operating out of Tampa, they'll rehab them, but we won't be seeing any of their or anyone elses mega-ships.

I think when they were talking of wasting a berth on a retired aircraft carrier a few years ago (something like the Intrepid in NY), they had to plan the arrival on a very low tide so that they would be sure it would clear the bridge. I think the carrier in question was one of the Forrestal Class.
 

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^Yep... If I recall, they were also going to flood a significant amount of the ship's ballast to get it lower in the water on top of that.

And unfortunately, replacing the bridge would probably cost something ridiculous, like $800mil or more, which means nothing is happening for AT LEAST 20 years.
 

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And unfortunately, replacing the bridge would probably cost something ridiculous, like $800mil or more, which means nothing is happening for AT LEAST 20 years.
Agreed. Nothing would need to be done with the bridge before hand. Actually, the only way that bridge would need replacement is if population skyrockets to some ridiculous level to where an eight lane skyway would be needed. I don't see that happening until at least 2030.
 

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It would require massive federal money too. That type of project takes years to get through the authorization process and then you have to start getting the money appropriated. I worked on getting a $180mil environmental restoration project for Phoenix and a $90mil flood control project in Sacramento when I was in DC. My boss had been working on getting the two projects authorized for about four years before I started working there. They were authorized while I was there and then we had to work to get the money appropriated to get the projects moving. Its a huge process and like everyone else has said, the Skyway isn't getting replaced anytime soon. Unless there is another accident, we'll have the same bridge for probably the next 50 years.
 

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Egad! While a taller bridge would benefit the port, I know I would not want to drive on it....I hate driving over the current Skyway, if it is possible I will take I-75. It is especially bad when it is windy....

Steve
 

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^^
Agreed. That bridge may last as far as 2050. What's the life expectancy of the skyway anyway? Like 70 years at least? Yeah, it will last probably through 2060 unless, like you mentioned Dan, something catastrophic happens. Whether another shipping or a Cat 5 hurricane.
 
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