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Port board wants to explore possibility of building cruise terminals near Pinellas

Tampa Port Authority board members want to explore the options for accommodating the next generation of cruise "megaships," which will be too tall to fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

One solution may be the previously announced idea to build separate cruise terminals by the Skyway near the Hillsborough-Pinellas county line, but the board needs to know more about that plan before any decisions are made, board member Sandra Murman said.

At their meeting Tuesday, board members asked port CEO Richard Wainio to provide them with a report on the proposed terminals, including a time line for construction and a list of advantages and disadvantages to having cruise docks separate from the main port.

"We need to get his vision and how he thinks we can accomplish this," said Murman, who originally requested an outline of the plan.

Port officials have to come up with some way to accommodate the larger ships or risk losing the cruise business altogether. Cruises brought in about $9.9 million in revenue last year — about a quarter of the port's operating revenue — and are projected to earn about $11 million this year.

Building terminals somewhere beyond the Skyway is the only solution, Wainio said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this month. But right now, all the port has is a conceptual design and general location for the proposed terminals.

"We need to know what we need to do to get this done, if in fact it is important to (Tampa's) cruise industry and important to the economic base of the port," Murman said.

The board also requested a report on the direction of the cruise industry in general.

Larry Shipp, chairman of the TPA board, said cruise ships will definitely be converted to the megaships in the future, so the issue will need to be addressed sometime soon.

However, he expressed concern about building new terminals before getting confirmation from the cruise lines that they would be used.

"We don't want to build on speculation," Shipp said.

Old pier to be replaced

The Tampa Port Authority board of directors also approved a motion to move forward with the replacement of the 50-year-old REK Pier, the port's main oil terminal. The project is expected to cost about $51 million.

Port board wants to explore possibility of building cruise terminals near Pinellas 05/15/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 9:36pm]
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