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Port Tampa Bay is seeing an increase in both cargo trade and cruise passengers

A bird's eye view of a shipping yard and a cargo ship unloading.
Port Tampa Bay
Port Tampa Bay officials recently signed a deal that will see a Maryland company build a new $50 million distribution facility on 35 acres of land.

As Florida's cargo shipping industry continues to recover, a Maryland company is leasing 35 acres from Port Tampa Bay to build a new cargo distribution facility.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacted multiple industries across the country. With worldwide shutdowns, the nation's ports saw noticeable declines in cargo, while cruise lines saw their guest population virtually disappear.

But the recovery continues at both the state and local level.

While cargo traffic at Florida’s 16 seaports is slightly ahead of pre-pandemic numbers, Port Tampa Bay commissioners say that they have not only surpassed pre-pandemic trade numbers, but they're looking at even great expansion.

The commissioners announced last week a lease agreement with Maryland company, Tradepoint Atlantic, on 35 acres at the port.

Under the deal, Tradepoint will build a new $50 million distribution facility. The lease will be paid off over a period of 40 years with three future options for extension.

The new facilities location will be on Hooker’s Point, next to the port’s container terminal, and include additional cranes, more storage, and an onsite cold storehouse. The facility is estimated to help import and export goods in higher number and with greater efficiency.

There is a huge demand for more container capacity on ships to come to Tampa," said Raul Alfonso, the Port's executive vice president and chief commercial officer. "We have identified over 1,500 loaded containers weekly that are looking for ships' capacity to come into Port Tampa Bay.”

At the same time, port officials say that cruise attendance is slowly returning to pre-pandemic numbers as well.

The number of cruise passengers last year in Florida was down 41 percent from an all-time high in 2019, but industry officials estimate a return to those record numbers by the end of this year.

Port Tampa Bay reports that more than 60 percent of cruise departures are from Florida, creating an industry with over 150,000 jobs and bringing in $8.1 billion in revenue.

"We have a good problem at the moment. We are running out of parking at a lot of these seaports. So I think the cruise industry is back up," Florida Ports Council Michael Rubin told the News Service of Florida last week. "(Cruise lines) offered some reduced rates for those cruising. So it's a good time to go on a cruise."

Rubin added that he hopes to see admittance return to 2019 numbers by the end of the year.

Alfonso echoed those cruise projections for Port Tampa Bay, adding, "We are the only port in Florida with an A plus rating financially, so its diversity of our tenants, of our operation, is very important.”

Thomas Ouellette is is the WUSF Rush Family / USF Zimmerman Radio News intern for spring of 2023.
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