Port Manatee sparks interest among Lakewood Ranch business leaders

jajones1@bradenton.comMarch 14, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When might there be ferry service between Port Manatee and Cuba?

What's the forecast for having cruise ship service at the port?

Those were just a few of the questions that members of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance directed to Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, Wednesday in the Fete Ballroom at Polo Grill.

While having a ferry operating between Port Manatee and Cuba, allowing Americans to leisurely cruise to Havana with their automobile to tour the sights of the city, is something that port officials would like, the timetable is uncertain, Buqueras said.

It is up to the Cuban and American governments, Buqueras told audience member Vicki Vega, who asked the question.

But, he added, "It's closer

than it was."

Unclear also is when cruise ship service might be offered at Port Manatee. One of the big steps would be construction of a passenger terminal there, something Buqueras has been talking about since he became port director.

Both the ferry and cruise line services would help diversify operations at the port, which is required to operate without taxpayer money, he said.

Also envisioned for the future is a connector road from the port to Interstate 75 to ensure continued easy access.

The connector road will be needed, but not immediately, Buqueras said.

"But we need the right of way," he said of land acquisition to provide a future connector road.

Bernie Croghan, known for development of ComCenters in Bradenton and East Manatee, asked if port growth will mean an influx of new businesses.

Port officials would like to attract a distribution center, the biggest is now in the Savannah area, Buqueras said.

The port is being expanded to help accommodate increased business as larger ships pass through an enlarged Panama Canal, Buqueras said.

It's likely that business at the port will continue to be focused on Latin America. The U.S. sells $2 billion more of its products to Brazil than it buys from there, Buqueras said.

Port Manatee is also the leading U.S. port for the importation of aluminum from Argentina and salt, used in water softeners, from Chile, Buqueras said.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1

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