TAMPA — Pressured by Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Channel District businesses, port director Richard Wainio pledged Tuesday to develop a plan to open the cruise ship docks to the public.
Federal and state security rules require that ports close off docks whenever vessels are tied up there. At other times, the Coast Guard has granted permission for the public to go out on the docks behind Channelside Bay Plaza for events such as New Year's Eve and Fourth of July fireworks displays.
But most of the time, "it looks like you're in prison looking (through gates ) from Channelside at the waterfront," said Troy Manthey, chief executive of the Yacht StarShip and president of the Tampa Attractions Association
The association sponsored more than 40 special events on the dock over the past nine years, Manthey said.
Buckhorn asked Wainio last month for a report on what it would take to extend the city's planned Tampa Riverwalk to include the cruise ship docks.
"I understand why things were put in place post 9/11," Buckhorn said.
''I think there may be other ways to mitigate the security issues and at the same time open up what I think is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in downtown Tampa."
Plans call for the Riverwalk to stretch 2.6 miles along the Hillsborough River from Tampa Heights, through downtown to the Beneficial Drive bridge.
"What about all those areas along the West Coast that use their waterfront (for tourism)?" said Sandy Murman, who represents the Hillsborough County Commission on the board. "I wonder if we're missing out on an opportunity."
But unlike the wharf in San Francisco, Wainio said, Tampa is a working port. Cruise ships dock from before sunrise to late afternoon on weekends during the busy winter season.
After a public event, bomb-sniffing dogs and divers must check the dock for explosives before the next ship comes in, Wainio said.
"The question is, can we open it up more frequently and for longer periods of time?" he said. Also, he added, are the issues of how much that would cost and who would pay the bills.
Contact Steve Huettel at Huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.