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Port Tampa Bay scales back construction project to save money

Operating revenues are off about 5 percent, largely because of the suspension of cruises.

TAMPA — With no word on when the cruise ship industry will resume sailing, the governing board of Port Tampa Bay on Tuesday scaled down a construction project planned at one of its terminals.

The port had planned to spend up to $5 million this year on improvements to Cruise Terminal 3: adding two escalators, installing a new canopy and repairing the roof for the second-floor balcony.

But with the pandemic shutting down cruises, port commissioners voted to pare the job down to $500,000. Reno Building of Tampa will fix the roof, which is leaking badly enough to damage the terminal’s floors and put water in the first-floor baggage claim area.

The other work will wait, officials said.

“Everybody’s hurting financially, and we’ve got to find money from somewhere,” port commissioner Patrick Allman said. “That’s a good place to take it.”

For the last seven months ending in April, the port’s operating revenues were about $2.2 million, or about 5 percent, below budgeted levels. The loss of cruise ship sailings, suspended since March 14, accounted for $1.75 million of that.

Related: Coronavirus pandemic hits travel to and from Tampa Bay on two different fronts

Some falloff in cruise revenue was anticipated because of the previously scheduled redeployment of one cruise ship away from the port this year, but officials said the loss of 32 cruises (and counting) could not have been predicted.

“Obviously, this will impact us for the rest of the fiscal year, and it’s not entirely clear when the cruise industry will resume,” port vice president for business development Wade Elliott said.

The pandemic is expected to affect the port in other ways, too. With demand for gasoline and air travel down, shipments of petroleum and jet fuel — a major import through the port — will be off, too.

“Much depends on the performance of the overall economy in terms of the impact on cargo demand,” Elliott said. “As you can imagine, the situation’s changing constantly, but we are expecting to see further impacts over the summer.”

Meanwhile, the port’s container traffic for the year is still up 27 percent over the same time last year.

“Now, more than ever, Port Tampa Bay’s diversification with our multiple lines of business is proving to be very important,” Elliott said.

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