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. Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott

  2. Forecast: Return of summertime pattern means afternoon storms on tap for Tampa Bay

    Weather

    As if Memorial Day wasn't enough of a signal that summer truly is upon us, this week's forecast across the Tampa Bay area will be a stark reminder.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  4. Manuel Noriega, Panamanian strongman toppled in U.S. invasion, dies at 83

    Obituaries

    Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman and onetime American ally who was toppled from power in a 1989 U.S. invasion and who spent more than two decades imprisoned on drug dealing and conspiracy convictions, died late Monday. He was most likely 83.

    Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega waves to newsmen after a state council meeting, at the presidential palace in Panama City, where they announced the new president of the republic in 1989. Panama's ex-dictator Noriega died Monday, May 29, 2017, in a hospital in Panama City. He was 83. [Associated Press]
  5. Austin Mahone talks Pitbull, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, his pop evolution and more

    Blogs

    Austin Mahone has vivid memories from his childhood visits to see his grandparents in Tampa Bay.