ST. PETERSBURG — Rebounding from a brainstorming meeting in March, city officials are inching toward short-term and long-term plans for the city's port just south of downtown.
As construction on the seawall — including the installation of six electric power pedestals ideal for research vessels — is expected to begin within the next month, city development administrator Dave Metz presented ideas for City Council members to consider. Among them: opportunities for potential expansion along the east wall, construction of a new facility for private-sector businesses and a short-term home inside the port building for Port Discovery, a marine science museum for children.
Council members expressed concerns over the constraints of the port's 10-year lease under the city's charter. A referendum to extend the lease failed on ballots in 2004 and 2011.
"Port Discovery is a nice thing for a few years and kind of gives us a bridge, but I really think our emphasis should be on where we're going to take the port long-term and put together a referendum that will meet a vast public approval," council member James Kennedy said.
The city's vision, Metz said, is that St. Petersburg has potential to become a hub for the marine science industry. Mayor Rick Kriseman has discussed plans with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. David Jolly and has reached out to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in an effort to secure a NOAA vessel at the port. The city has not heard back.
A marine science hub could bring an economic boost to the city, attracting more than 800 employees with advanced academic degrees, said Jacqueline Dixon, dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Science heavyweights Stanford Research Institute and the college would weigh in, she said. The hub could bring an estimated $30 million to the city.
The port could use the cash: City subsidies are expected to increase from $208,000 to a projected $263,000 at the start of the new fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Currently, the only revenue generated from the port comes from docking fees. With the renovations, half of which were paid for by state grants, increased vessel traffic could mean up to $175,000 more annually.
"This is a real economic driver in terms of the city," Dixon said.
Colleen Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.