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Port Tampa Bay, city still at odds over Channelside Drive changes

If they can’t find common ground, one commissioner suggested the port could take legal action.

Tensions between the city of Tampa and Port Tampa Bay aren’t exactly easing over the future of Channelside Drive.

Both sides decided at the last moment to pull a presentation on Channelside Drive renovations from Tuesday’s Port Tampa Bay board meeting, after port president and CEO Paul Anderson and Mayor Jane Castor decided they needed another month to try to work through their differences.

At issue is a long-planned project to improve pedestrian safety on Channelside by widening sidewalks and cutting traffic to one lane in each direction between Kennedy Boulevard and the roundabout near the Florida Aquarium.

Port officials say the project would snarl traffic on the 70-plus days per year when cruise ships come in, causing backups all the way to the Ikea at Adamo Drive and 22nd Street N. Castor said the city has heard those complaints and adjusted its designs, but the port has already had ample time to voice objections.

That wasn’t good enough for port commissioner Patrick Allman, who moved to have the board “take any action necessary to look out for the interests of our cruise ship business," he said. "When I say any and all actions, this includes legal action as well.”

Allman later rescinded his motion after Anderson said that despite some “miscommunications" with the city, he’s hopeful they can find a solution. Still, Allman had reservations — as did fellow commissioner Hung Mai, who reiterated that “lane reduction is not going to be acceptable to our board."

“These proposed plans will destroy our cruise ship business,” Allman said. “There’s plenty of things that we can explore to make it pedestrian-friendly. But giving up lanes isn’t something that we need to be doing, if we want to keep cruise ships down on Channelside Drive.”

Castor, a port commissioner, said the changes are necessary as more people move into nearby developments.

“Channelside is turning into a residential area, which is going to continue, and so we have to develop Channelside as a residential roadway, with all the needed traffic requirements in there," she said.

She agreed the city would continue working with the port to find common ground before a formal presentation on the project at the board’s next meeting on Nov. 17.

“I hope that month is not used to try to change the design of Channelside yet again, but it is used to develop more efficient ways to load and unload passengers on port property,” she said.

Bill Kuzmick, president of the Port Tampa Maritime Industry Association, said the goal of improving pedestrian safety, especially near Water Street Tampa and Sparkman Wharf, was important, but not at the cost of cruise business.

“We applaud the city and the efforts to develop our city into something bigger and better and safer,” he said. “However, we’ve got to look at what the costs of those are. This is a noble goal, and I think there are some alternatives to doing this without changing the traffic flow for what’s essentially a major artery for the downtown area, as well as the port district.”