California company wants to build port cargo distribution hub in Hillsborough County

A California company wants to build a distribution hub for products shipped into Tampa's port on nearly 400 acres of farmland in southwest Hillsborough County.

Inland Port Systems is betting on port projections that its container cargo traffic will grow rapidly over the next two decades. A complex of warehouses, office buildings, and truck and rail docks will provide a place to reassemble shipments and send them off to the final destination.

"The key is to find a piece of ground that's not tied up in urban sprawl," said Richard DeMariano, Inland Port's vice president and a former port director in Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville. "It's the equivalent of waiter stations in a restaurant to cut down on collisions."

Construction of the project with 2.6 million square feet of warehouse and office space will take about 10 years and cost at least $250 million, said president Dick Ellison. About 1,800 people could work there when the facility is built out.

But the company faces two to three years of work with government officials before turning the first shovel of dirt. Inland Port must persuade Hillsborough commissioners to amend the county's comprehensive plan, which restricts busy industrial businesses to urban areas. If successful, the company would need a rezoning from its agricultural designation.

The county has already heard from residents worried about damage to environmentally sensitive lands and increased truck traffic, said Krista Kelly of the planning commission staff.

Giving companies a hub near rail lines and interstate highways — and far from urban sprawl — is the whole point, says Ellison. He expects to attract three types of tenants: retail distribution centers, light assembly plants and delivery services like UPS.

The site is just north of the Manatee County line, near Port Manatee. But the focus is on Tampa's port, which is investing heavily to expand its container cargo terminal. A master plan last year projected the port's fledging container business would increase sevenfold by 2012 and average annual growth of 15 percent through 2027.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

California company wants to build port cargo distribution hub in Hillsborough County 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 8:49pm]

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