For years, one of the most closely watched plots of land between Ybor City and Tampa’s Channel District has been a privately held 25-acre ship repair site at the north end of Port Tampa Bay, directly south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
The site may finally have a buyer — and it’s a familiar one.
Darryl Shaw, the veterinary entrepreneur turned Ybor City real estate investor, has a deal in place to purchase the land occupied by International Ship Repair and Marine Services, a spokesperson said Wednesday.
The three-parcel property would be purchased in two phases over the next five years. The first, encompassing the north and west sides of the ship repair yard in Ybor Channel, could close in late 2023. The second will take a few more years as International Ship Repair looks to relocate its operations, including 300 employees. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
“This site will be the capstone of the Channel District, providing enhanced connectivity between Ybor City and the surrounding neighborhood, and public access to the waterfront within a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood,” Shaw said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with Tampa’s maritime community, which is foundational to Tampa’s economy and history, and supports 85,000 critical jobs.”
The land is owned by a corporation controlled by longtime International Ship Repair owner and influential port figure George Lorton, who died in July; the sale is being managed by a trust in his name. A representative from the trust did not return requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The hurdles to moving the ship repair business would be significant, said International Ship Repair senior vice president Hugo Ortiz.
“It’s not a matter of saying we will relocate,” Ortiz said. “Who will pay for the relocation? Who will find a cheap place to move? Also, the Tampa Port Authority needs to be involved. So there are several factors. It’s not (possible) to come with this kind of news to say, ‘OK, we want to take over.’”
The site is the largest plot of Channel District land that’s part of, but not owned by, Port Tampa Bay. It encompasses four berths (a fifth is located in the port’s East Bay) and five floating dry docks at the north end of the Ybor Channel, near the intersection of Channelside Drive and Adamo Drive.
Ortiz said it was always Lorton’s intent to keep the company at Port Tampa Bay, but it would have to work with the port to find enough available berths along a deep enough channel for relocation. If a channel had to be dredged to get that depth, it would require federal approval.
“Those permits take one year, two years, three years,” Ortiz said. “Then you talk about the environmental aspects; that can be another challenge. So it’s not easy to say, in two, three years, it’s going to be done.”
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Whatever contract exists between Shaw and the company “I’m sure accounts for all of that,” said Jay Roberts, CEO of Tampa development firm the Prosper Group.
“I think he’s thinking in decades,” Roberts said of Shaw. “Water Street (Tampa’s) phase 2 moving up, Gas Worx, that waterfront site and then Channelside — I think it’s all going to be positive for Tampa. It’s going to only attract more people, more investment, more taxes to support the city.”
International Ship Repair has seen proposals like this before. In 2007, after bidding a reported $100 million for the property, a Clearwater developer received city approval to build 1,100 condos, 300,000 square feet of office space and 55,000 square feet of retail on the site; that deal later fell through. More recently, the property was pitched as a potential site for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium.
It’s a historic piece of land. International Ship Repair has operated there for some 40 years, acquiring most of the property in 1995 and 2004 for about $15.6 million, according to Hillsborough Records. The eastern side of the property covered in the sale’s second phase once housed Tampa Marine, which built many ships during World War II, said Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center.
“Not battleships, more ancillary ships like tenders that were still a very important part of the war effort,” he said.
The western part of the property along Channelside was once part of Tampa’s banana docks, where longshoremen unloaded bananas from ships to be sent by train and truck to other cities, Kite-Powell said. The docks dated back to the late 1920s and became a sort of tourist attraction, with people gathering to watch the hub of activity there.
Shaw, the co-founder of the BluePearl veterinary hospital chain, has over the past decade accumulated around 100 acres of land across Ybor City at a cost north of $110 million. That includes $28.5 million for the former Tampa Park Apartments and $24 million for the former headquarters of professional staffing services firm Kforce, one of Tampa Bay’s largest public companies.
The project will be separate from Shaw’s Gas Worx project at the southwest corner of Ybor City, a 41-acre mixed-use development designed to include thousands of residences, a half-million square feet of office space and more. That project’s first phase, including hundreds of apartments east of the Nick Nuccio Parkway, is set to break ground this fall.