PORT MANATEE — Berth 9 just got bigger, better and a little bit deeper.
On Thursday, Port Manatee’s governing board held a ceremony to celebrate a $10.3 million reconstruction.
The project took 18 months to complete and created 250 construction-related jobs. Three-quarters of the funding came from a Florida Department of Transportation grant. The remainder was provided by the Manatee County Port Authority, which consists of county commissioners.
In the process, the 40-year-old berth was completely rebuilt to improve safety standards and accommodate larger cargo ships. The berth is now 40 feet deep and can handle uniform loads of up to 1,000 pounds per square foot.
Port Manatee executive director Carlos Buqueras compared the renovation to a longer runway that can handle larger planes.
Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority, said “anytime we can improve our infrastructure or our services here at the port, it’s a great plus. All the ships that come in, we don’t want to put them in harm’s way of being damaged, so it makes us more competitive with other ports in the state of Florida.”
There are 15 deepwater ports in Florida, but Port Manatee is the closest to the Panama Canal, giving it a leg up for businesses that wish to ship products from the Pacific Ocean.
Port Manatee also is the closest port to the Port of Mariel in Havana.
But the potential for more trade with Cuba remains murky. In Miami on Thursday, President Donald Trump was expected to announce a dramatic rollback of former President Barack Obama’s more open relations with Cuba, though details reportedly have not been finalized.
Baugh said that she’s willing to work with Cuba, should the opportunity arise.
“The bottom line is we’re a business,” Baugh said. “So, if the trade opened up, we would’ve been first in line to work with Cuba. However, there are obviously things to take into consideration right now. We don’t know what’s going to be happening in Washington.”
If open trade does happen, it won’t be the port that decides to do business with Cuba.
“We don’t trade with Cuba, our customers trade with Cuba,” Buqueras said. “So we’re just like an airport — we don’t own the planes, we don’t own the passengers, we don’t own the cargo. The cargo is private to private.”
But the port doesn’t need Cuban trade to remain relevant. Some studies have shown the port has a $2.3 billion annual impact on the area, with more than 24,000 jobs stemming from its operations.
“The port, if you think about it, is a lifeline. That’s where a lot of business comes in — a lot of the things that Manatee County and the surrounding counties need to grow and sustain themselves,” Baugh said.
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who helped negotiate money for the reconstruction project, reiterated the importance of Port Manatee.
“We have the lowest unemployment numbers since 2007, and that’s in large part due to our friends at the port,” Boyd said. “We think it’s the best port in the state of Florida and probably in the Southeast and maybe even beyond.”
Buqueras said continued growth in the state’s population and economy should continue to fuel Port Manatee’s growth and the nearby Port of Tampa.
“Tampa and us will still have a hard time even accommodating the business that’s coming.”
Warner Crossing – Wyman, Green & Blalock Real Estate, Inc.
MANATEE COUNTY — Wawa’s aggressive expansion into Southwest Florida continues, this time with a new store on State Road 64 east of Interstate 75.
Commercial building permits were filed late last week in Manatee County for $903,000 worth of construction for a new Wawa store at 1450 Upper Manatee River Road.
The store would be at the northwest corner of S.R. 64, roughly 4 miles east of the interstate.
The Upper Manatee River Road site is predominantly vacant and adjoins the Links at Greenfield Plantation. Read more
BRADENTON — Considered an opportunity to remove a long-time blemish on redevelopment efforts on the downtown waterfront, the Bradenton City Council voted Wednesday to loan $2.7 million to the Manatee Players theater to buy 2.6 acres for a parking lot.
The property at 301 Seventh St. W. is the site of the old, dilapidated Carver Apartments.
City Clerk Carl Callahan said the city has long considered how to get more parking into the area as Riverwalk and the new Manatee Players facility continue to grow in popularity. The city loaned Manatee Players almost $3 million about a decade ago as they made plans to build the theater at 502 Third Ave. W. The parking lot to the east of the theater belongs to the Players but is used by many visiting the Riverwalk.