Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg hopeful Congress will add a NOAA facility, research vessel to downtown waterfront

There is vacant land next to SRI International, 450 Eighth Ave. SE, that could be the site of a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration center in downtown St. Petersburg.

DIRK SHADD | Times

There is vacant land next to SRI International, 450 Eighth Ave. SE, that could be the site of a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration center in downtown St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's efforts to energize its downtown port could get a big boost from the federal government.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could build a new facility along the downtown waterfront that would also be home port for the first of its research vessels to be stationed in Florida.

It all depends on what Congress does. But a good first sign was Thursday's announcement by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson that the Senate Commerce Committee he sits on approved a provision that could make the facility a reality.

It specifically orders the Secretary of Commerce to develop a "strategic plan" for building or acquiring a NOAA station in St. Petersburg.

"(It's) not a done deal yet, but getting it passed in committee is a significant hurdle," said the senator's spokesman Ryan Brown.

There are several steps still to come — getting passed by the full U.S. Senate, then the U.S. House, then being signed by the president, then getting it funded — but the news was greeted with jubilation by city officials.

"This is great news," Mayor Rick Kriseman said. "It's a great step forward.

"We've been working on this for a long time now, along with our congressional delegation, and are certainly very appreciative of the senator's actions, which is a great step towards making this a reality."

No one yet knows how much such a facility would cost, how many it would employ or which ship would be assigned to it. However, city development administrator Alan DeLisle said the move would boost St. Petersburg's marine sciences and research industry, which is clustered around Bayboro Harbor.

"It makes that strength of ours even stronger," he said. "We can't wait to be able to work on this and make this happen."

It would also add to the city's emerging Innovation District, which includes the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and SRI International on Bayboro Harbor, as well as nearby hospitals.

A NOAA research ship would also add to the number of large vessels now calling St. Petersburg home. The city hopes to attract more vessels following the successful trial run of the Cross-Bay Ferry, which connected downtown St. Petersburg to Tampa. Elected leaders on both sides hope to bring the ferry back.

Downtown is the winter home of the tall ship Lynx, an 1800s-era replica schooner and floating museum. Port St. Pete is also home to the Sir Winston, a luxury yacht available for excursions, corporate and other events. And the new Marine Discovery Center will open in the port's terminal, which is being refurbished.

City officials hope those pieces, in conjunction with plans to build the new Pier District, will draw more vessels for entertainment, tourism and education to the downtown waterfront.

The addition of the NOAA operation will be "a perfect fit to join what we've already got," in the research and marine science hub, Kriseman said. He said discussions have been taking place with Nelson, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and NOAA officials for months.

The city even has a location in mind. St. Petersburg leases property to SRI International on Eighth Avenue SE, near the city's port. The new NOAA facility could be located just west of SRI, which is at 450 Eighth Ave. SE.

NOAA is a federal science agency under the Department of Commerce that focuses on the oceans and the weather. It currently has 16 ships, which it describes as "the largest civilian research fleet in the United States." Its website shows that ports include Pascagoula, Miss., Charleston, S.C., San Diego, Calif., and Kodiak, Alaska.

However, NOAA has had a bad run in the bay area lately. In November, the agency lost its hangar space at MacDill Air Force Base and had to relocate its aircraft operations center, 110 employees and its small fleet of "hurricane hunter" aircraft to the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

Nelson noted in his announcement that "despite having the second longest coastline in the U.S.," no NOAA research vessels are based in Florida. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, the U.S. senator also said NOAA would be "well served to have one of its ships here" because of Florida's "vast coastline" and the Tampa Bay area's "concentration of top-notch ocean scientists."

DeLisle declined to talk about possible incentives that might be offered to the federal agency to make that happen. "We are looking at putting a very strong financial package together that will make sense to NOAA," he said.

For its part, NOAA officials said the agency would not discuss the proposed St. Petersburg facility, which was tucked into a $18.9 billion Coast Guard spending bill.

"As a practice, we don't comment on pending legislation or speculate on what might happen if and when a bill becomes law," said Scott Smullen, NOAA's acting director of communications.

From Nelson's committee, the bill will now go to the full Senate and the House. If passed, it will be sent to the president for his signature.

"We're ready to go," Kriseman said.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at @wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

St. Petersburg hopeful Congress will add a NOAA facility, research vessel to downtown waterfront 05/19/17 [Last modified: Saturday, May 20, 2017 10:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

    Blogs

     Winner of the week

    Peter Antonacci. Gov. Rick Scott tapped his go-to utility player to lead his Florida job recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida, having previously picked him for his general counsel, to lead the South Florida Water Management District and to serve as Palm Beach state …

  2. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 19: A peregrina spends the whole day under the weather, and part of the day under the table

    Travel

    Day 19: El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente: 25.4 km, 7.5 hours (Total for Days 1-19 = 454 km (282 miles)

    This list pretty much sums up my day:

    Eat two bananas

    Walk 13.1 kilometers

    Nap

    Walk 6.2 kilometers

    Nap

    Eat half an apple

    Walk 6.1 kilometers

    Crash< …

  3. Storm routs Cleveland

    Storm

    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  4. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.
  5. Rowdies shut out Charleston

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies know a thing or two about stalemates, with five of their past 10 games ending in a draw.

    Rowdies in the first half during the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017.