Land, Ho!

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2005

In its 35 years, Port Manatee has grown from a geographically isolated operation into the fourth-largest port in Florida with a $2.3 billion economic impact on Manatee County.

Here's a look at the new commercial activity in and surrounding the port:

º Topping the list is a $125 million expansion on 412 adjacent acres to the south that the port purchased in 1997, says trade development director Steve Tyndal. One-quarter of the land is being developed into two new berths, increasing the port's berthing capacity by 50 percent, while the remaining land will become an environmental preserve. Completion is expected early this year.

Improvements in the turning basin and channel will allow larger ships to use the port. To accommodate the increased cargo, the port is building 1 million square feet of warehouse space. At press time, nearly 90 percent was complete.

º Sarasota-based Federal Port Corporation is building 400,000 square feet of additional warehouse space, primarily for lumber. Three of the seven buildings in this $20 million project have been completed on property adjacent to the port, says president Stanley Riggs, who chose the site partly because he can truck goods from warehouses to docks without using state roads. "Port Manatee is very expandable because it has a lot of room around it," Riggs says. "Other ports can only rearrange the furniture."

º The port's easy access to the interstate highway system attracted new manufacturing operations to the area. Palmetto-based Zirkelbach Construction is developing the Buckeye Industrial Park, a $100 million light-manufacturing industrial complex on 138 acres across from the port, with 45 lots of up to two acres each, totaling 2 million square feet. The project is scheduled to break ground in nine to 15 months and will house an energy producer, a commercial cleaning service and distributors.

º Tampa-based U.S. EnviroFuels has proposed an ethanol plant at Port Manatee, which would be the first in Florida and the first for any of the country's 361 ports. The $70 million facility received approval from the Manatee Port Authority and is awaiting state and federal approvals. Ethanol is a corn-based gasoline additive that improves fuel efficiency. Tyndal estimates that the plant would produce 40 million gallons of ethanol a year, importing grain that would bring the port a minimum of $750,000 a year in fees, while creating 40 jobs with average annual salaries of $52,000.

º The port also is considering long-term developments, including potentially acquiring 200 acres of the abandoned Piney Point phosphate property across U.S. 41 to expand its railroad facilities, and positioning the port to trade with Cuba if and when the federal government lifts trade restrictions.

"We are in fairly frequent contact with Cuban government officials," Tyndal says, adding that two shipments of a phosphate-based animal feed additive from White Springs-based PCS Phosphate and cattle from Naples-based J.P. Wright & Co. already have been sent to Cuba under an exception made to trade restrictions five years ago allowing food and medicine exports. "It was partially successful, but the loads weren't large enough for us," he says, adding that distributors have since used smaller ports.

º Last fall, the port saw increased traffic from other Gulf Coast ports damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But Tyndal isn't gloating about the added business. "Our goal is to assist the ports that have been impacted," he says. "We're not out there soliciting business. Sooner or later the shoe's going to be on the other foot."

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