Richard Wainio's departure as chief executive for the Port of Tampa offers a chance to build a broad consensus on the port's future. The port has become a regional force both in seaborne trade and as a guiding hand in the development of downtown Tampa's Channel District. The port authority's governing board should recognize the public's stake in finding a director who can continue moving this community asset in the right direction.
Wainio helped build the port into the economic engine it is during his seven years in charge. He continued to diversify the port's business from cargo to cruise ships, and he oversaw a series of capital improvements that will expand the port's reach for decades. Tampa handles more cargo than any other port in the state, and the terminal, road and other facilities will only enhance what already is one of the most dynamic ports in the country.
Wainio was criticized for not working more openly with the wide range of port tenants. His announcement that he will step down in September caught even his bosses on the governing board by surprise. Still, Wainio was a world-respected director who managed the port during tough economic times, and he will leave it in good position to take advantage of new opportunities stemming from the expansion of the Panama Canal.
The next director needs to have the same business sense and international clout, along with a better sensitivity for the public aspects of the job. Balancing the competing needs of the port's many tenants is no easy task, but that diversity helps the port's bottom line and makes it attractive as a destination. The next director also needs to bring some clarity to the role cruise ships will play. The port is exploring whether to build a passenger terminal west of the Sunshine Skyway to serve the new generation of ships that cannot fit under the bridge. That idea poses many problems, and the new director needs to bring candor to this debate before this idea takes on a life of its own.
The new executive also will be coming on as the port plays a larger role in developing the Channel District. The port owns the land under Channelside, the retail and nightclub complex, and it will have a say in guiding the redevelopment of the entire area. The next director needs to have a vision for entertainment and residential districts in urban settings. He needs to commit the port to be an active supporter of the downtown core. And the new director needs to appreciate the accountability that comes from leading an agency funded in part by property taxes. That may seem like a lot to juggle in the public eye, but it's inevitable for a port and a region whose profile is only growing.