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What’s the best course for Port St. Pete?

Mark Parker



An aerial view of Port St. Petersburg, its vacant lots and the Maritime Defense and Technology Hub. Screengrab.

While St. Petersburg’s port lacks the commercial and cargo ship traffic of other harbors, its proximity to an abundance of public and private research organizations provides a distinct benefit.

City officials are taking a long-overdue look at the best direction for Port St. Pete, in Tampa Bay. They agreed to fund and work on a new master plan for the facility – for the first time since 1999 – at Thursday’s Public Services and Infrastructure Committee meeting.

David Wirth, enterprise facilities manager, said, “it’s a great time” to establish a path forward. He noted the surrounding Innovation District, the adjacent Maritime and Defense Technology Hub and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Marine Science are reaching new levels of success and planning expansions.

“It needs to be relooked at,” said Wirth. “Do we still want to draw mega-yachts and research vessels? Do we want to look in other directions?”

A 200-foot yacht moors at Port St. Pete. Photo by Lauren Bell.

There is development potential at Port St. Pete, explained Wirth, as the city owns three surface lots. He said officials could lease or build on the site or use it as event space.

Wirth added that the city continues to support the adjacent Hub’s efforts. While officials did not explicitly mention using the site for a facility expansion at the meeting, Councilmember Gina Driscoll previously stated that one of her “big goals for 2023 is to focus on getting a solid plan in place to build a second Hub.”

Port St. Pete is one of 15 deep-water harbors in Florida and one of three within Tampa Bay. The four-acre facility at 250 8th Ave. SE sits between USFSP and Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg.

Wirth noted the Hub is one of two buildings at the Port Terminal. He said its wharf encompasses 1,200 linear feet for boats to dock, and the operating depth is 23 feet.

That excludes “really large” cruise and cargo ships but does allow for tug boats, research vessels and mega-yachts. Wirth relayed the city rebuilt the wharf in 2015 so cranes and service trucks could pull alongside the water’s edge.

The USF College of Nursing utilizes the terminal building, while the Innovation District leases the Hub facility.

“We’re not solely dependent on the vessel traffic anymore for the revenue of the port,” said Wirth. “The land leases of the Hub building, the USF building and the lot alone, I think in FY23 should be upwards of about $220,000 …”

He said crews on mega yachts leaving the Tampa shipyards enjoy parking at Port St. Pete due to its cleanliness and amenities. The Grand Prix also attracts “reliable return customers,” said Wirth, including renowned former race car driver and team owner Roger Penske.

The Coast Guard, local law enforcement and several research-based organizations also utilize the port.

“We realize we’re not a Fort Lauderdale, but we’re one of the very few places on the west coast of Florida that can accommodate large private yachts,” said Wirth. “We’re a great place to have research vessels come in and collaborate with those agencies or organizations.”

A Florida Institute of Oceanography research vessel named after late USF biologist Bill Hogarth, who died last November. Photo by Mark Parker.

However, as Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz noted, city officials haven’t updated their Port Master Plan since the days of dial-up internet.

Wirth said that should occur every 10 years. He blamed city changes, a focus on other master plans and the pandemic for the extensive delay. He added that many residents do not venture down 8th Avenue Southeast and remain unaware that the city even operates a port.

Driscoll relayed that a third research vessel will soon permanently anchor at the facility and expressed confidence that the College of Marine Science will receive funding for a significant expansion. She also strongly supports funding the new master plan.

Wirth said consulting firm estimates range between $200,000 – $300,000, and he believes the city could receive a matching grant to cover half the cost. He will put the expense into the FY24 budget and said the update would take about a year to complete.

“We’ve been kind of playing both sides,” said Wirth. “We want to do the boats and everything, but at the same time, we need to make up some revenue, too. So, what can we do with the space we have?

“Let’s lease it out any way we can.”



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  1. Avatar

    Kayak Joe

    January 12, 2023at5:39 pm

    This is a very sad response/position to be held for St Pete.

  2. Avatar

    Sink it

    January 13, 2023at8:12 am

    College of marine science is part of USF Tampa. Its simply located at usfsp.

    College of marine science should be closed with prejudice and evicted from this town, but that’s just my opinion. They can take their research hub with them.

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