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Study Raises Questions about Future of Tampa Cruise Industry

Port of Tampa

The Tampa Bay area has three options when it comes to the future of its cruise ship industry - and two of them would cost a lot of money.

That's the conclusion reached in a Florida Department of Transportation study released Tuesday.

Jamal Thalji of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the size of the Sunshine Skyway, which ships must pass under to get to Port Tampa Bay in the downtown Channel District, is a sticking point, as it's too small for the 'mega-ships' that many cruise lines are choosing to build.

One option would be to either build a new bridge, another option to raise the current bridge. However, both ideas would be costly in both money and time.

Building a new Skyway would cost $2 billion. It would also take two years to tear down the old bridge and four to build a new one. Raising the existing bridge would cost up to $1.5 billion, leave the bridge closed for 18 months to two years, and take three years to complete. But that option also creates a "high risk of instability" while raising the spans, the report said.

Other options include building a new cruise ship port west of the Skyway Bridge or simply doing nothing. The former would cost around $647 million without inflation and need Pinellas County to sign off on the deal, since it owns the land.

The latter option could cost the region as cruise lines opt for other sites to call home.

"There are certain itineraries now that could not come here so our passengers can not plan accordingly with Tampa Bay in mind. If that's affecting us already a little bit, in the future it's going to be worse and worse," Raul Alfonso, Executive Vice President of Port Tampa Bay, told WTSP.

The FDOT study doesn't endorse any options, and Alfonso said it may be years until any decisions are made.

According to the study, Port Tampa Bay handled 179 cruises with 826,000 passengers last year, numbers that are forecast to grow to record levels of 239 cruises and 1.1 million passengers this year. In addition, the study estimated that Tampa's cruise industry generated 2,000 jobs and $90 million in personal income.

The Tampa Bay Cruise Pre-Feasibility Study was done by the Miami consulting firm of Bermello Ajamil & Partners at the cost of just over $150 thousand.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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