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With its container business growing, Port Tampa Bay sets the stage for more

The container ship Cosco Piraeus docked at Port Tampa Bay in January to unload the first of what will be two weekly shipping container deliveries from Asia. CHRIS URSO | Times
Published Mar. 19

TAMPA — Now that its cargo business is ramping up, thanks largely to two new weekly container ships from Asia, Port Tampa Bay has a new challenge: keeping up with its growth.

"We're sort of the dog that caught the car," Port Tampa Bay president and chief executive officer Paul Anderson said Tuesday. "We've got to handle two (new) weekly ocean services. That's an additional 104 vessel calls per year of some of the largest ships that have ever come to Port Tampa Bay."

The growth didn't come out of nowhere. The port has spent years building relationships, marketing itself to major shippers and investing $24 million in two 300-foot-tall gantry cranes to handle bigger ships. Now officials say it's on a pace that will require expanded capacity.

So the port board approved a $19.6 million expansion at one future cargo berth and tweaked its contract with its cargo operator, Ports America, to improve port facilities, operations and marketing at several others.

SHIP NO. 1: Port Tampa Bay lands weekly container ship delivery from China

SHIP NO. 2: The biggest ships the bay has ever seen are headed to Port Tampa Bay

First, port board members voted to hire Pepper Construction Services of Tampa to transform about 23 grassy acres at Berth 211 into a secure shipping container handling and storage yard. The project includes nearly $8 million from the Florida Department of Transportation. Pepper, which submitted a lower bid than GLF Construction Corp. of Miami, is expected to get a notice to proceed in about three weeks and take an expected eight months to finish the work. The Tampa company has done two other jobs for the port, both on schedule and with no claims from contractors.

Next, the board approved a new agreement with Ports America calling for the company to invest nearly $2.3 million in terminal improvements as soon as the port hits 100,000 containers over a 12-month period, something port officials expect to see in the near future. Last year, the port handled 87,500 containers, a big increase over the year before but still a fraction of what passes through major East Coast ports like Savannah, Charleston, S.C., and, closer to home, Jacksonville, Miami and Port Everglades.

In exchange for the investment, the port agreed to start giving Ports America a credit of $7 per container for the new business coming in via the two new carriers, Cosco Shipping Lines and the CMA CGM Group. That kind of rebate is typical for the industry, Anderson said, and the port has similar marketing and rebate agreements with its cruise lines.

"We want to double our container business this year, and maybe triple and quadruple in the next 12 to 24 months, so we now have to make those investments with Ports America to be able to handle that capacity and get the throughput and the velocity of the containers to maintain those companies that are coming here," he said. "It's a great problem to have."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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