TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority on Tuesday approved spending $21.5 million to build two new gantry cranes that officials hope will expand the port's cargo container business.
This summer, the Florida Legislature awarded Port Tampa Bay $12 million to help pay for the project. The port will pay for the rest using a loan from the state's infrastructure bank.
The port's governing board voted to award the $21.5 million contract to ZPMC, aka Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., one of the world's largest crane manufacturers.
Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson wants to expand the port's share of cargo containers, which are a more lucrative than the bulk cargoes, like phosphates and anhydrous ammonia, that dominate its business.
"When we have met with the global ocean carriers," Anderson said, "they are telling us, 'We need you to have bigger cranes for us.' "
The port handled 34,379 containers in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, an 11 percent increase over last year. But containers is a fledgling business in Tampa. The Port of Miami handles more than 900,000 a year.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the board, said the project should benefit the region. "We're getting two cranes here," she said. "But it's going to attract jobs and more companies and their goods."
The cranes should take about two years to build and install. The port would then have five cargo cranes. The current three are 42 years old and can stretch 110 feet over a cargo ship. The new cranes will be able to extend 160 feet out.
The Tampa Port Authority's crane project was panned by Florida TaxWatch, which put it on its annual list of state budget "turkeys." The organization later said it was merely questioning the appropriations process.
Contact Jamal Thalji at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.