Credit squeeze kills plan for $70M fuel storage farm at Port of Tampa

A private petroleum company's plans for a $70 million fuel tank farm at Tampa's port are dead, the victim of tight lending markets.

The Tampa Port Authority agreed in September to lease 43 acres to an affiliate of International Oil Trading of Boca Raton to build a facility with 15 to 20 huge tanks and a combined capacity of 1.1-million barrels.

But International Oil Trading put all pending projects on hold that month as lending froze up in response to the collapse of financial giant Lehman Brothers, said Harry Sergeant III, the company's owner.

"Access to capital went from difficult to impossible, even for investment-grade public companies,'' he said Friday. "It was like a garage door slamming shut, and there was no opening it.'' His company never signed the 40-year lease and told port director Richard Wainio last month the deal was off.

Virtually all of Florida's gasoline, diesel and jet fuel enters the state through ports in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville. There's too little storage capacity, said Sargeant, as evidenced by short supplies when shipping was interrupted during the hurricanes of 2005.

International Oil Trading was lining up oil companies such as Brazil's semi-public Petrobras to deliver fuel to Tampa and market it in Florida, said Sargeant. His company also planned to blend ethanol with gasoline at the site and feed jet fuel into a pipeline to Orlando.

Wainio hopes to resume talks with other firms that had expressed interest in the site. The port authority received $198,000 rent for October through February, he said.

Separately, developers want up to a year to buy 3.5 acres next to the Channelside complex for 250 low-rise apartments and neighborhood retail. Their current deal with the port authority sets a March 31 deadline to close on the land.

The group hasn't secured financing because of economic conditions and tight credit markets, states a memo to port commissioners. They are scheduled to vote on the request Thursday.

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

Credit squeeze kills plan for $70M fuel storage farm at Port of Tampa 02/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2009 11:08pm]

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