PORT MANATEE -- A national logistics and stevedore company appears to be ready to sign up with the one of the nation's biggest names in fruit to partner in a huge, new cold-storage warehouse at Port Manatee.
Montreal-based Logistec is negotiating with Fresh Del Monte Produce to bring the fruit seller into the port's planned 200,000-square-foot chilled warehouse. Logistec would operate the warehouse, and Del Monte would be the primary tenant under an operating agreement to be finished between the companies.
If the agreement is signed, Logistec would be the private partner in the $24.6 million public-private warehouse. The company would pay approximately $12.3 million toward the construction cost. The Florida Department of Transportation would pay the other $12.3 million.
Logistec was named as a possible partner for the facility at the Port's July meeting. At the time, Atlanta-based Nordic Cold Storage was also a suitor.
André Dubois, Logistec's director of operations at the port, said the two companies do not yet have an agreement, but are continuing discussions.
"We know that time is pressing," he said. "We're all hopeful we would have something in place by the first quarter of the year."
Logistec needs Del Monte or another operation of a similar size as a tenant.
"When we're talking about a project of that magnitude, we want to make sure the return on investment is there," Dubois said.
If the company cannot secure a tenant, it can back out of its agreement to fund 50 percent of the project.
Logistec and Del Monte already have a presence at the port. Logistec has been a port stevedore for more than a decade, and has a presence at 33 ports.
Del Monte ships fruit into its Del Monte Way packaging and processing facility at the port, then sends finished fruit products to the retail market.
Del Monte fruit is currently stored in a 58,000-square-foot chilled warehouse at Port Manatee. The port has a total of 207,000 square feet of cold storage at or near its berths and docks.
Port Manatee is Del Monte's second-largest U.S. port facility.
Dave Sanford, port deputy director, said he thinks the two companies just need to work out the final details of the agreement.
The port is not a party to the negotiation. "It's going to happen. It's only a matter of the white smoke coming out of the corporate chimneys," he said.
FDOT has put some pressure on the parties in the negotiation. Kristi Smith, a senior modal project manager with the state agency, emailed Port Executive Director Carlos Buqueras on Jan. 7 to request a status update.
She noted that "there has been no activity on this project" since December 2010, and asked Buqueras to justify keeping funds allocated by FDOT in 2013.
FDOT has so far allocated about $7 million for the warehouse project.
Provided with details about progress on the negotiations, FDOT remains poised to fund its portion of the project. Robin Stublen, a communications specialist for FDOT, said Port Manatee is in no danger of losing state funding.
"We're not thinking about pulling the money," he said.
Sanford and Dubois said facility planning is still in its earliest stages. A conceptual plan has yet to be produced for the warehouse.