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Port of Pensacola: A Piece Of The Community

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Port of Pensacola
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The Port of Pensacola has been in business for nearly three centuries, and is as busy as ever today. We begin a two-part series on the Port, its place within the community, and what lies ahead.

Located on Pensacola Bay, the facility is an operational deep-water port dating back to 1743. Incorporated in 1943 as the Municipal Port Authority. It covers about 50 acres downtown with eight, 33-foot deep draft berths; 265,000 square feet of warehouse space, and rail service.

On a warm, late-spring day recently, Port Director Amy Miller conducted a tour, looking back at the changes she’s seen since taking over in 2006. One is the port coming through a time when the economy slumped, and then began building back.

“One of our major tenants, Offshore Inland Marine that was in the offshore oil and gas sector doing vessel services, when the oil market collapsed they had to find other work to do,” said Miller. “They were able to find a job with a company called Blue Origin, converting a ship into a rocket landing pad.”

Work was underway on the former cargo vessel just a few yards away from where Miller spoke. The ship is scheduled for roughly another two years of renovation, before going into service in 2021.

Another recent addition to the Port is the ferry service linking downtown, Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens. The boats – Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch – are berthed at the port’s Commendencia Slip. Miller hosted the dedication ceremony in April.

“When we began conceptualizing this facility more than two years ago, we didn’t want it to be just a box with a ticket window and a dock; we wanted it to be an iconic place that fit into the fabric of downtown,” said Miller. “It took a lot of work and a lot of effort, and a lot of support from a lot of different people; but I don’t know about you, I think we succeeded.”

But for every success story like the ferry service and Landing Platform Vessel, sometimes things just don’t work out. Case in point, says Miller, is Incoa – which wanted to locate a calcium carbonate facility there. CEO Steve Creamer told the City Council last year that Pensacola was among six ports making their short list.

“We fell in love quite honestly with Pensacola; we think you have a beautiful city,” said Creamer. “Our due diligence shows [a] great work ethic, great people and certainly a beautiful community which we would love to become part of. We have a long history of being involved with communities we work with.”

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Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Port of Pensacola Director Amy Miller hosts the opening of the local ferry service, linking downtown, Ft. Pickens and Pensacola Beach.

While giving unanimous approval for Mayor Ashton Hayward to enter talks with Incoa, at least one councilman – Larry B. Johnson – was not totally sold.

“We do appreciate [Incoa] bringing us possibly opportunities, but I think they have to be properly vetted,” said Johnson. “I just want to make sure that [if] we sign a 20-year lease for downtown Pensacola that it’s a good fit. And I want to do our due diligence; I just don’t think we’ve done that yet.”

Incoa eventually decided to locate its plant in another city, says Miller, who adds that the firm was not a good fit moving forward.

“There were some concerns about the type of operation it was; it was a little more of [a] heavy industrial nature of an operation,” Miller says. “We’re really starting the transition out of that really heavy industrial port-type of operation. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon traditional port operations. It just means that we’re evolving into a 21st century port.”

Much of the blueprint for that development comes from a completed study of the Port by the firm Moffat and Nichol, called “The Portside Pensacola Vison Plan.”

“Overwhelmingly, the citizens of Pensacola want their port to stay a port,” said Director Amy Miller. “They don’t want it to close; they don’t want it to turn into something else. They want it to stay a port; but they would like us to explore opportunities to diversify what we’re doing and expand into some new areas of business related to marine tourism, recreation, marine research – high-tech types of things.”

The plan can be viewed at www.portsidepensacola.com.  

In our next installment: just what is a “niche” port? An update on a new import/export business, what’s not allowed, and more on the rocket catching ship.