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Tampa Mayor Castor pushes to explore opening cruise port for the Riverwalk

While embraced by city boosters, the idea hadn’t gotten much traction. This week, the mayor took getting started to a vote.
A gate secures the water side area of Tampa's cruise ship Terminal 2.
A gate secures the water side area of Tampa's cruise ship Terminal 2. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 19

TAMPA — The idea has long been talked about by downtown boosters: Why not open up a cruise ship terminal when it’s not in use to extend what’s arguably the town’s most popular public amenity — the Riverwalk that runs along the water?

Despite enthusiasm from city stakeholders, the idea hadn’t seen much progress. Port officials cited concerns about security, lost revenue, safety, cost, liability and equipment.

“We’ll take a look at it and get back to you,” Paul Anderson, CEO of Port Tampa Bay, said at a meeting last year.

But Tuesday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who sits on the port’s board, pushed forward exploring the idea. Her motion — to form a committee that could include port members, the U.S. Coast Guard, law enforcement, the city, cruise lines, the Riverwalk board and nearby businesses to look at the issues involved — passed.

“There’s a lot of frustration in the community because we haven’t done anything, and we’re being lampooned in the editorials because we as a board haven’t led,” said port commissioner Patrick Allman. “Well, it’s time for us to lead, and that’s what the mayor’s motion is about.”

Terminal 2 sits between the Florida Aquarium and the Sparkman Wharf food and entertainment area near the Channel District and developing Water Street. It’s also close to the end of the Riverwalk that carries pedestrians, runners and partiers for 2.6 miles along the water’s edge — a much-used amenity recently described as “the city’s charm bracelet.”

The terminal, gated and blocked off, sits on a prime piece of waterfront that some see as a logical extension of the Riverwalk when it’s not being used by cruise ships. This cruise season, ships will sail from that terminal 78 days, according to Lisa Wolf-Chason, port spokesperson.

The area has already been used on occasion as a venue for large gatherings, including a national trade show event with music and performers.

“I think the more we make that (waterfront) available to the community, the better we are as a city as we grow,” the mayor said at a December meeting.

Anderson has noted the cruise industry makes up about 20% of the port’s revenue. But he also said they could look at some concepts for opening the terminal “that might work.” He was not present for Tuesday’s meeting due to illness, Wolf-Chason said.

Proponents have suggested adding security guards and removable fencing to protect the equipment. City and county governments, the local Community Redevelopment Area and private donors have been cited as possible funding sources.

Who will serve on the committee is expected to be discussed at next month’s Port Tampa Bay board meeting. Castor also mentioned a “time certain” report back from that committee in three or four months.