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Here's how Port Tampa Bay plans to reshape Tampa over the next 15 years

Port Tampa Bay unveiled its master plan detailing projects through 2030 this week. Photos courtesy of Port Tampa Bay
Published Dec. 8, 2016

Last year, Port Tampa Bay officials were excited to show off sleek, new designs featuring a $1.7 billion urban vision of a futuristic Channelside in downtown Tampa.

Renderings showed 75-story high apartment and condo buildings surrounded by parks and a much bigger cruise terminal. But Thursday, Port Tampa Bay officials unveiled a farther-reaching master plan for the port's various enterprises, which includes a scaled back version of that original urban Channelside district.

The "Vision 2030" master plan was cobbled together by consultants and port staff, and sets the guidelines for growth and new development for port operations for the next 15 to 20 years These new plans aim to help Port Tampa Bay grow, establish new business and build upon its existing industries. The real estate project in Channelside would help the port generate income from rent and sales and better connect its cruise terminal to the rest of downtown Tampa Bay.

The master plan includes:

•Begin developing the 45-acre Channelside real estate project, though the skyscrapers have been scaled back to 60 stories, but the waterfront parks, convention space, new roads and upgrades to cruise gangways and berths proposed by the port last year are the same. Construction costs are expected to reach $148.5 million and work could begin early next year.

•Investing $1.4 billion to dredge deeper channels, build new warehouses and expand existing ones across Port Tampa Bay. This includes constructing a new petroleum storage center, extending railways, expanding the auto terminal and eventually growing the container cargo business to accommodate two more gigantic gantry cranes to join the two that were brought on earlier this year.

•Investing hundreds of millions of dollars into Hooker's Point and Port Redwing to build a refrigerated warehouse and expand berths and operations there. An additional $240 million will go toward a four-phase project to build new berths by using fill from dredging the channel to create more land mass on the east side of port property.

"This is a bold, new road map for Port Tampa Bay," said CEO Paul Anderson at a news conference Thursday. "This plan aligns with the comprehensive plans for the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County."

But some of future projects outlined in the port's master plan seem more reachable than others.

Port Tampa Bay wants to beef up every aspect of its business. It wants to be the gateway to Central Florida and serve the growing number of distribution centers that are being built along the I-4 corridor. It wants to drum up new international business by growing its container cargo business and establishing early ties with Cuba as trade embargoes are lifted. And it wants to elevate its status as a top tier cruise destination.

Read more: Port Tampa Bay economic impact rises to $17.2 billion, study says

But it's unclear how realistic or profitable some of these ventures could be in the long run.

Port Tampa Bay invested $25 million in the two gantry cranes earlier this year to prepare for the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, which allows for bigger ships to access American ports. The new cranes, which have been operational since this summer, have yet to service a ship the size they were meant to lure to Tampa Bay. The port is also up against ports that handle more than double the tonnage in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville that have established container businesses.

The port plans to expand an auto import terminal, according to the master plan, so it can receive more ships that are importing new cars from Mexico. But no new cars are flowing into Port Tampa Bay just yet. And the future of that business is uncertain under President Elect Donald J. Trump, who has said he wants to impose a 35 percent tariff on cars imported from Mexico.

Read more: Port Tampa Bay still finding its way as expanded Panama Canal opens

The port also wants to build a new petroleum storage center to better position it as the hub for gasoline imports in Central Florida for automobiles, airplanes and other vehicles. But this comes at a time where more people are driving electric cars and other clean innovations are shifting toward using less gasoline and oil.

The master plan forecasts a robust growth period ahead for Tampa's cruise business, with annual revenues from passengers potentially nearing $1.4 million by 2030 compared to about $900,00 recorded in 2015. This forecast does consider the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn't tall enough to allow the newest and largest cruise ships to pass underneath. But port officials are hopeful that cruise opportunities to Cuba will fuel new growth.

The port's plan to build apartments, hotels, offices and storefronts along an expanded cruise ship terminal in Channelside once seemed like the most farfetched plan the port had. But it could now be one of the most viable. The ambitious project could be a boost to downtown Tampa, especially with the 50-acre urban revitalization of downtown Tampa in the works by Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm backed by Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment. SPP is also leading the redevelopment of Channelside Bay Plaza, which sits on port-owned land.

Read more: Channelside Bay Plaza could be demolished to make way for a new park, restaurants and condos

The port's Channelside plans were recently revised to include 60-story towers, instead of 75, after a few air height and transportation studies ruled the buildings were too tall. The final plans for the Channelside development is expected to be approved by the city early next year, said Luis Ajamil, the Miami architect who designed the plan. Then the port will be able to select a developer to head the next phase of the project.

"Not only will this mixed use project be a great asset to the tourism business for our cruise ship passengers, but it's important for the port be a good neighbor to the rest of the city," Ajamil said.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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