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Port to explore opening cruise ship terminal by Tampa’s Riverwalk to the public

Port Tampa Bay has cited security and liability concerns, but agreed to report on feasibility.
A gate secures the waterfront side of Port Tampa Bay's cruise ship Terminal 2, which is used by cruise ships about 30 days a year. Downtown boosters hope to see it open to the public when not in use.
A gate secures the waterfront side of Port Tampa Bay's cruise ship Terminal 2, which is used by cruise ships about 30 days a year. Downtown boosters hope to see it open to the public when not in use. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 17|Updated May 17

TAMPA - For those hoping to get a piece of downtown waterfront property opened to the public when it’s not being used as a cruise ship terminal, the door may have opened just a bit.

At Tuesday’s Port Tampa Bay meeting, Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen, who sits on the Port Authority board, brought up the parcel of land behind cruise ship Terminal 2 that has long interested downtown boosters.

The property sits in a prime spot between the Sparkman Wharf food and entertainment area and the Florida Aquarium. It’s also close to where the popular 2.6-mile Riverwalk ends — giving it the potential to be a logical and walkable connection in a fast-developing corner of the city.

But the property remains heavily gated and closed on both ends because of security, safety and liability concerns, even though it’s the port’s least-utilized terminal, used for cruise ships about 30 days a year.

At the meeting, Cohen referenced a recent Tampa Bay Times story about ongoing interest in the property for “connectivity” purposes. He asked if the idea of opening it could be looked into and reported back.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, also on the board, agreed: “I’ve heard not just from Roger Germann (CEO) at the aquarium, but from a number of people about having that connection,” she said.

Paul Anderson, CEO of Port Tampa Bay, responded that he “would love nothing more than to get this connected.” But he also cited concerns about security and large pieces of Port equipment housed there. He said it would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to meet what would be required to open it up.

Anderson also said there should “certainly” be a discussion. “I’ll be happy to put something together for you to see,” he said. No date for when that report would be made was discussed.

“We’ll take a look at it and get back to you,” he said.

Those who support the idea of opening the prime piece of waterfront to pedestrians have floated possible funding sources including city and county government, the local Community Redevelopment Area and private donors.

“I think that what we’re asking is for there to be a dialogue about this with all the players,” Cohen said after the meeting. “It’s certainly not the port’s responsibility to make something like this happen alone.”

The Florida Aquarium, Tampa Downtown Partnership and downtown residents and business owners have long eyed that property’s potential. Germann said the aquarium could put exhibits out for people passing by. Opening it up would also give better visibility and access to the historic American Victory Ship and Museum docked nearby.

“When the Florida Aquarium opened 27 years ago, it was built to be an economic and cultural anchor and a connector to nature and neighborhoods,” Germann said Tuesday. “We believe opening the Riverwalk to the residents, those who work downtown and tourists is achievable while still supporting cruise operations at Port Tampa Bay.”

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Last year, the property opened as a venue for a national trade show event with music and performers. A spokesperson for the port said they would consider allowing individual events there “on a case-by-case basis.”

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