Cuba ferry possible for port property
By Yvette C. Hammett | Tribune Staff
Published: June 20, 2014
TAMPA — Patrick Allman envisions the day when a Cuban businessman could
come to Tampa, purchase 20 cars at auction and on the same day, ship
them back to his home country on a ferry docked in the Channel District.
"I could see a shipment of Ruskin tomatoes heading to Cuba," accompanied
by a boat-load of tourists, said Allman, a member of the Tampa Port
Should the political winds change and travel and trade between the
United States and Cuba resume in a more traditional sense, Port Tampa
Bay needs to be prepared, he said. "We're thinking ahead to future
opportunities. We are apolitical, but I don't think it's a stretch to
say this situation will change in the future." Cuba's leaders are aging,
Allman said he has already spoken to the consultants preparing the
Channelside Master Plan about earmarking a piece of property near the
cruise ship terminals for a future cargo and passenger ferry that could
run between here and Cuba.
The public will have input on that master plan, as well. Port Tampa Bay
is hosting an open house Tuesday to give the community a chance to weigh
in on the future of the Channel District and how it should be developed.
The open house is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History
Center, 801 Old Water St., first floor, TECO Room.
There is plenty of room for public input on what should go in on the
more than 35 acres of undeveloped land Port Tampa Bay owns in the
Channel District, said Luis Ajamil, the consultant for the study. And
there is room for a future ferry berth, he said.
"Being we are one of the closest ports to Cuba, from my perspective, I
asked the question, what if," Allman said. "Are we in a position to take
advantage of it when the time is right? All we've decided so far is that
if a ferry opportunity arises, we could use land near the cruise ship area."
The United States imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1960, one year
after Fidel Castro seized power, and five decades later, it remains in
effect. But in recent years, as Fidel Castro has turned over power to
his brother, Raul, and both are aging, there has been more discussion of
lifting that embargo.
Tampa International Airport already offers six flights a week to Havana,
Santa Clara and Holguin and members of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce
have visited the island nation. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco even
traveled there in 2002 with a contingent of local businesspeople.
As for the port, there is history. There was cattle trade with Cuba out
of Tampa in the 1800s and Henry B. Plant, the railroad tycoon,
envisioned trade with Cuba and the entire Caribbean basin, purchasing a
steamer in 1884 to connect Tampa with Key West and Havana.
Port Tampa Bay is in a great position for a future use such as a ferry
because it has close proximity to the interstate system and already has
a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office and adequate parking, Allman
Years back, cruise ship growth was a top priority for the Channel
District, said Ajamil, of Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc., the firm
conducting the study. But the newer, larger cruise ships can't fit under
the Sunshine Skyway bridge, so that priority is shifting.
"Now you have a lot more residential and decreased cruise ship traffic
(in the future), so that opens a lot of opportunities for adding to the
urban living experience," Ajamil said. "When you have housing, there are
needs that must be met, whether it's open space or coffee shops,"
grocery stores or office buildings.
"At the same time, there is a side that wants a working waterfront,"
Ajamil said. "That ferry might be one of those things we might fit in
there. It can be a multidimensional property."
Ajamil said only about eight acres of the 45 acres the port owns in the
Channel District are already developed. "The bad thing is that there is
nothing there," he said. "The good thing is that there's nothing there,
so we don't have to be knocking stuff down.
"We are going to be pretty wide open" in listening to ideas from the
public during the open house, Ajamil said. "We will share our site
analysis, what we see as the attributes of the site. What we want from
the public is ideas."
After the open house, the consultants will come up with a recommended
master plan and present it to the Tampa Port Authority board.
Ajamil said the Channelside Master Plan could be completed within three
or four months and could be implemented over the next decade or so. It
will be incorporated into the Port Tampa Bay Master Plan, which is being
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