Port Tampa Bay

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Port Tampa Bay
CountryUnited States
Coordinates27°56′59″N 82°26′43″W / 27.949851°N 82.445255°W / 27.949851; -82.445255
Operated byTampa Port Authority
Type of harborNatural/Artificial
Sizeappx. 5,000 acres
President & CEOPaul Anderson (since 2012)
Channel depth43 feet
Vessel arrivals3,093 (FY2015) [1]
Annual cargo tonnage37,374,290 (FY2015) [1]
Annual container volume56,742 TEUs or 487,410 net tons (FY2015)[1]
Passenger trafficCruise passenger traffic: 867,114 (FY2015) [1]
Main exportsPhosphate, fertilizer
Main importsPetroleum products, steel
Water-borne cargo value$4.51 billion (2014)

Port Tampa Bay, known as the Port of Tampa until January 2014,[2] is the largest port in the state of Florida and is overseen by the Tampa Port Authority, a Hillsborough County agency. The port is located in Tampa, Florida near downtown Tampa's Channel District. The port directly accesses Tampa Bay on the western coast of the Florida Suncoast, and is approximately 25 sea miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The port district includes parts of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough Bay, McKay Bay, Old Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River. The port serves container ships, tank ships, and cruise lines.

As of 2013, Port Tampa Bay ranks 16th in the United States by tonnage in domestic trade, 32nd in foreign trade, and 22nd in total trade. It is the largest, most diversified port in Florida, has an economic impact of more than $15.1 billion, and supports over 80,000 jobs.[3][4] Cargo shipping includes bulk and tanker ships, as well as roll-on/roll-off ships and container cargo ships. The port additionally operates ship repair facilities. Currently connected to major Asian container ports, with global connections, the port is focused on growing its container trade. Millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements are underway or in the planning phase.

Cargo shipping[edit]

View of a portion of Port Tampa Bay from Davis Islands, Downtown Tampa background left.

Weekly containerized cargo service is available at Port Tampa Bay. Ports America operates two container berths, three gantry cranes, a 100-ton Mobile Harbor Crane and a container terminal. In 2014, the Port spent $21.5 million on two new gantry cranes purchased from Zhenhua, which will be operational in 2016.[5] The shipping companies Zim Integrated Shipping Services, Mediterranean Shipping Company, and Nippon Yusen are among those who do business at the port.

The port is also home to Foreign Trade Zone #79. Foreign Trade Zone No. 79 assists companies in Tampa Bay and along the I-4 Corridor in importing, exporting, manufacturing, and distribution activities.

Cruise ships[edit]

Carnival Legend cruise ship returning to Port Tampa Bay

Tampa is also one of America's most popular departure ports for western Caribbean cruises. Four cruise lines homeport at Port Tampa Bay: Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line. AIDA Cruises uses the Port as a port of call. It has three cruise terminals. Fiscal year 2014 saw 888,343 passengers come through the port, encompassing 198 cruise ship calls.[1] Nearby attractions include Channelside, The Florida Aquarium, and Ybor City.

In April 2016, a reversal in Carnival's policy banning Cuban-born Americans from booking cruises to Cuba sparked protests in Miami and at the Port Tampa Bay, where a handful of Cuban-American protesters objected to the Port's ties with Carnival because the company is doing business with the Castro regime. Carnival had initially imposed the ban because Cuban law prohibits Cuban-born people from returning there by sea, even though they can do so on commercial flights, but on April 18 released a statement saying, "All travelers can book its cruises to Cuba, including Cuban-born individuals, in anticipation of Cuba allowing travel on a similar basis as they would if they were traveling by air."[6]


The cruise terminal and port headquarters are located along Channelside Drive.[7][8] The nearest major highway to the port is the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, which runs along the northern edge of the port. Elevated, reversible lanes on the expressway run from Meridian Avenue (three blocks west of the cruise terminal) to Interstate 75 and the suburb of Brandon.

A significant amount of truck traffic to and from the port once traveled on the urban streets of Ybor City, one of just two National Historic Districts in Florida.[9] The Interstate 4 – Selmon Expressway Connector, completed in 2013, is a 1.1-mile (1.8 km) highway which has exclusive truck lanes to route truck traffic from Interstate 4 directly to Port Tampa Bay, which now allows trucks to bypass city roads and travel directly between the Port and the interstate system.[9][10][11]


Tampa Bay has been used as a wide, safe harbor ever since it was first mapped by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca referred to the entire bay as a "Port," writing, "The Port of which we speak is the best in the world." In 1821, two years after the United States bought Florida from Spain, James Forbes, Military Governor of Florida Andrew Jackson's appointee as Florida's U.S. marshal, wrote that the bay would "afford protection to our own trade and be of vital importance to our naval grandeur". By 1823, Lt. Col. George Mercer Brooke was establishing a military post at Tampa, and, along with four U.S. infantry companies, he built Fort Brooke. By the mid-1830s, steamers and sailing vessels were calling at primitive wharves, bringing military supplies to carry on war against the Seminoles, as well as delivering slaves and carrying away hides and lumber.

Scottish schooner skipper Captain James McKay Sr. arrived with his wife in Tampa in 1849; McKay is often credited as the person who truly made Tampa a port, first with a sailing ship calling at Tampa, Mobile, and New Orleans, and then with two steamers transporting cattle to Cuba. One story relates how McKay dealt with several corrupt Cuban bureaucrats who had been hampering the trade – ordering them thrown overboard from one of his steamers into shark infested waters outside Havana's harbor. McKay was an active blockade runner during the Civil War and would later serve a year as Tampa's mayor.

Tampa's cattle trade with Cuba resumed after the Civil War, led by rancher Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes, who went on to found the Lykes shipping empire, which included the Lykes Brothers Steamship Company. Also after the war, Fort Brooke was abandoned by the federal government, and some of Tampa's forward-thinking citizens came together to buy much of the land, transforming it into a teeming waterfront.

A major partner in the evolution of Tampa's maritime history was a railroad tycoon, Henry B. Plant, who brought Tampa's wharf area a rail connection to Jacksonville in 1884. By 1888, tracks ran all the way from Tampa to New York. Around this time, Plant expanded his empire to include hotel property and steamships, and one of the steamers he deployed in Tampa-Key West-Havana trade, Mascotte, was made part of the city seal when Tampa was incorporated as a city in 1887.

The late 1880s also saw the discovery of phosphate in Central Florida and the opening of Tampa's first cigar factories, and Tampa quickly became the principal marine shipping point for these and other commodities. Following U.S. intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence, 1898 brought the Spanish–American War, and, in May of that year, Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt and hundreds of his Rough Riders, plus some horses, departed Tampa on a Cuba-bound steamer. Indeed, Tampa's pivotal role in the short war helped boost the city and port into the national spotlight.

As the 19th century drew to a close, local business leaders were coalescing in an effort to gain federal support for deepening Tampa harbor channels and by 1905 had convinced Congress to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge to a 20-foot depth. In addition, two of the men who had acquired much of the Fort Brooke waterfront property – E.M. Hendry and A.J. Knight – dredged their own 20-foot channel, further extending navigable waters, and opened a shipping terminal at the mouth of the river. Tampa also got a second and third railroad, and Mallory Line, Southern Steamship Co. and Penn Steamship established regular Tampa calls.

Legislation related to further deepening the channel to 24 feet included a condition that the City of Tampa build wharves and a belt line railroad – even though the property was not within the city limits. Knight and fellow businessman A.R. Swann offered to donate the necessary land to the city and, after disagreements over configuration of the new wharves in relation to downtown streets, the Tampa Port Commission was formed as a uniting body, with members appointed by Florida's governor. Local voters joined in to support the state government, approving a bond issue that provided funds for onshore structures and municipal docks, which were completed in 1924.

By 1929, a 27-foot channel was in place and the port commission was abolished, with the city's public works department taking its place in overseeing the port.

World War II brought a flurry of activity for shipyards and other war industries. At the war's close, in 1945, a legislative act supported by local voter referendum led to creation of the Hillsborough County Port Authority, later renamed the Tampa Port Authority, and its gubernatorial appointees began pushing Congress for a 34-foot channel. While the 34-foot channel was approved in 1950 and completed in the early 1960s, the port authority and citizen leaders recognized the need for still deeper waters, working together to secure federal authorization in 1970 for a 43-foot-deep main ship channel, along which much of the present-day Port of Tampa's facilities are located.[12]

To maintain these channels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regularly re-dredges and widens the channels to a depth of up to 47 feet (14 m), a process which produces about 1 million cubic yards of sediment every year.[13] This material has been used to create several small fill islands in the bay along the approach to Port Tampa Bay.

Shipping and support facilities once occupied much of the waterfront land in and around downtown Tampa, but since the 1950s most port operations (except cruise ship terminals) have moved just east and southeast of downtown, freeing Tampa's waterfront for other uses.


Port Tampa Bay is governed by a board of seven commissioners, five of whom are appointed by Florida's governor, the other two being the current Mayor of Tampa and a member of the Hillsborough County Commission.

Current Members:[14]

  • Chairman Steve Swindal: Owner of Marine Towing of Tampa, Owner & Founder of Pan American Sports Group LLC;
  • Vice Chairman Carl Lindell Jr.: Owner of Lindell Investments and Lindell Properties;
  • Secretary/Treasurer Patrick H. Allman: General Manager of Odyssey Manufacturing Company;
  • Commissioner John B. Grandoff III: Co-Chair and Shareholder of Hill Ward Henderson's Land Use Group;
  • Commissioner Gregory Celestan: CEO of Celestar Corporation
  • Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn
  • Commissioner Sandra Murman, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners

Port Tampa Bay's Leadership team can be found here: Port Tampa Bay Leadership


  1. ^ a b c d e "Port of Tampa Bay Official Information". Port Tampa Bay.
  2. ^ "Port of Tampa gets new name: Port Tampa Bay". Tampa Bay Times. 22 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Port of Tampa Bay Official Information". Port Tampa Bay.
  4. ^ "U.S. Port Ranking by Cargo Volume 2006". American Association of Port Authorities. Retrieved 2009-01-27.[dead link]
  5. ^ "Port Tampa Bay to get two new cranes to handle container cargo". Tampa Bay Times. 19 August 2014.
  6. ^ "Port Tampa Bay drawn into Carnival Cuba cruise controversy". WFLA. 2016-04-18. Retrieved 2018-02-01.
  7. ^ "About the Tampa Port Authority". Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  8. ^ "Tampa Cruise Terminal". Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  9. ^ a b "I-4 / Selmon Expressway Connector (new road)". Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  10. ^ "Transportation Recovery-Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway Connector". Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  11. ^ Judy, Scott. "Tampa's Elevated Connector Tests the Team". Engineering News-Record. McGraw Hill. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  12. ^ "Port of Tampa Bay Official Information". Port Tampa Bay.
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Port of Tampa Bay Official Information". Port Tampa Bay.

External links[edit]