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Port to purchase aquarium parking

Five acres currently used as a parking lot will be converted into a terminal where cruise ships can dock.

With plans to build a cruise ship terminal, the Port of Tampa has agreed to pay the city $6.3-million for 5 acres of the Florida Aquarium parking lot.

The port also will pay another $400,000 to compensate for the loss of parking revenue.

In losing half of its roughly 10-acre lot, the aquarium also will lose 28 percent of its 931 parking spaces.

As the plan now stands, the aquarium will receive $500,000 of the proceeds, plus whatever funds it ultimately loses from the lost parking spaces, said Henry Ennis, the city's finance director.

The city will use $5.5-million from the sale to pay for Fort Brooke Park II, a parking garage planned just east of the Waterside Marriott hotel.

The parking lot sale must still be approved by the five-member port board at its meeting today, and by the City Council on March 29.

The port wants the land to build another cruise ship terminal along the Ybor Channel by mid-2002, which is expected to accommodate Royal Caribbean boats, among other cruise lines.

"Our vision is to see all the cruise ships lined up on Sundays down here on Channelside," said Tampa Port Authority Director George Williamson. "That's why we're pursuing this piece of property."

Aquarium director Jeffrey Swanagan, who is pushing for an aquarium expansion that would include a rehabilitation and rescue center for sea turtles and seals, said he had hoped the city would channel half of the profits from the sale into the aquarium. Nevertheless, he said, he is pleased with what the aquarium will get.

"The city is working with us to try to get us (more) money. It might have to come through other buckets of money," Swanagan said. "I certainly would like to have more money invested in the aquarium, because I believe in what we're doing."

The city and the port will agree to split the costs of a $200,000 cleanup and the $300,000 cost of relocating the aquarium's toll booth.

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