As the new Anna Maria City Pier development takes shape this year in the barrier island resort city, Port Manatee continues to play an integral role in the building of landmark infrastructure throughout the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
Carrying on a decades-old tradition that includes sourcing precast concrete structures used in building the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the St. Petersburg stadium now known as Tropicana Field, Port Manatee is currently the hub for transport of pilings that by year end should be supporting a new Anna Maria pier replete with a restaurant and bait shop.
Concrete pilings that arrived by vessel from Malaysia are being loaded out via barges from Port Manatee for transport to the Anna Maria site, where they are driven 30 or more feet into submerged sand and clay to form a sturdy base for the pier development.
Port Manatee’s involvement in the Anna Maria project is somewhat reminiscent of the role the port played 30 years ago in the building in St. Petersburg of the Florida Suncoast Dome — a signature structure that on clear days can easily be seen across Tampa Bay from Port Manatee.
The stadium, home to Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, has been known as Tropicana Field since 1996, when Bradenton-based Tropicana Products signed a 30-year naming rights agreement.
Of course, Tropicana has another more immediate Port Manatee connection, as it is among citrus juice firms that benefit from movement of products across Port Manatee docks.
When the domed stadium was being built in the late 1980s, construction was dependent upon more than 7,000 pieces of concrete formed by a now-inactive company called POMCO Associates Inc., which had its plant at Port Manatee.
At the plant, more than 150 workers precast the concrete units.
POMCO’s Port Manatee plant also produced concrete units used in the early 1980s in the rebuilding of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge — another architectural achievement that can be viewed across Tampa Bay from Port Manatee.
Before the bridge originally opened in 1954, those traveling between Manatee County and St. Petersburg enjoyed service of the Bee Line Ferry, which in 1926 began carrying vehicles and passengers to Point Pinellas from a dock at the end of Piney Point Road, just north of current Port Manatee property. Some above-water remains of that dock can still be seen.
While the domed stadium and the Skyway have had billions of dollars of favorable impacts on the region’s economy, other POMCO undertakings that involved pilings and additional precast units produced at the Port Manatee plant included expansion of the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, more than a dozen parking garages in cities along the Florida Gulf Coast and several other bridges, such as the Green Bridge across the Manatee River between Bradenton and Palmetto.
These days, Port Manatee continues to play a vital role in Florida commerce by building bridges, although they tend to be of the figurative kind as opposed to literally speaking.
The metaphorical bridges built over the past five years by the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee have been fortified this year with opening of Latin American and European promotional offices, in Colombia and Spain, respectively.
Near and far, Port Manatee isn’t finished playing an active role in building bridges and having multibillion-dollar impacts, as the port supports more than 24,000 direct and indirect jobs and generates more than $2.3 billion a year in economic benefits for the local community, all without levying a penny of ad-valorem taxes.
Carlos Buqueras is the executive director at Port Manatee and can be reached at email@example.com.