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Changes coming to Channelside Drive as Port Tampa Bay, city swap land

Florida Aquarium parking will change, and a pedestrian bridge is in the works.
Passengers wait to catch rides outside Cruise Terminal 3 after disembarking from the Carnival Paradise at Port Tampa Bay in 2017
Passengers wait to catch rides outside Cruise Terminal 3 after disembarking from the Carnival Paradise at Port Tampa Bay in 2017
Published May 18, 2021|Updated May 18, 2021

Parking at the Florida Aquarium and Port Tampa Bay’s cruise terminals might soon look a bit different.

Port commissioners on Tuesday approved a proposed land swap with the city of Tampa that would result in new cruise terminal access roads through the aquarium’s parking lot, and potentially a pedestrian bridge across Channelside Drive.

The deal came about after port officials complained about the city’s long-in-the-works plans to narrow Channelside Drive and add pedestrian safety measures, arguing that such changes would snarl already heavy traffic on cruise days, thus harming the city’s cruise industry.

Related: Port Tampa Bay, city near agreement on Channelside Drive project

The land swap, port leaders said, will help ensure passengers can get to and from cruise ships more easily.

“Everybody gets what they want,” said port commissioner Patrick Allman. “We keep our access for the cruise ship terminals, and the city can make the improvements they want to do on Channelside Drive.”

The port will give the city 1.4 acres of land encompassing Channelside Drive from the roundabout at Cumberland Avenue south to Beneficial Drive. In return, the city will let the port build a new access road to Cruise Terminal 3 from E York Street, through the city-owned Florida Aquarium parking lot.

The city will also grant the port an aerial easement across Channelside Drive, a key step in any potential development of a pedestrian bridge from the port’s parking garage to Cruise Terminal 3. Port leaders have long advocated for such a walkway, though Mayor Jane Castor has expressed reservations about the project’s need and cost. Port spokesperson Lisa Wolf-Chason said the port hasn’t settled on an exact location for the bridge.

Florida Aquarium visitors will also notice changes, as its parking lot will shift laned entryways to an automated pay system. The aquarium is currently investigating how that would work, said spokesperson Dale Wolbrink. Wolbrink said the port’s decision “dramatically improves access” to the aquarium.

To clear room for the new access roads, two storm-water retention ponds around the lot will be partially filled in. The port will pay a storm water treatment company $266,000 for offsite treatment of water collected in the ponds, with half that cost reimbursed by the city.

To build the new access road from York Street, the port will hire the same construction company already working on Channelside Drive, at a cost of up to around $1.4 million.

“They’re already on site, they’re already mobilized, and it’ll be easy to coordinate,” Allman said.

All changes will require the approval of the Tampa City Council. Neither the port nor the city outlined a timeline for the access road construction, although port officials said they’re counting on cruise ships returning to Tampa this fall.

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The land swap wasn’t the only deal brokered between the port and city at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Port commissioners also granted the city an easement for a new sewage tunnel beneath the Ybor Ship Turning Basin, northeast of Harbour Island. That’s good news for Harbour Island residents, who had feared the city would refurbish or replace the existing pipes that have for decades pumped sewage through their neighborhood to the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Hookers Point. This agreement will keep the pipes out of sight.

Related: Harbour Island residents want city to consider a water route for massive new project.

“This is a very, very good thing for Harbour Island and the city of Tampa,” said port and Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen. “It was going to blow up the whole neighborhood because of the route. That was the complication. And it took years to determine that this was an alternative.”


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