Port of St. Joe
St. Joe Co. has made port development one of its priorities.
The story of the port of Port St. Joe is being written in fits and starts. The original port, operated as part of St. Joe Co.’s paper mill, was sold in the ’90s and was later shut down. The last big ship to visit was in 1995, says Doug Wheeler, president of the Florida Ports Council.
In 2002, a move to resurrect port operations got under way when the city’s port authority drafted a master plan, which it updated in 2006. Since then, it has prepared a bulkhead and made improvements on the Gulf County Canal for barge traffic.
Progress isn’t smooth. The port authority had to relocate its offices for lack of funding and is grappling with a possible $4.6-million mortgage foreclosure. On top of that, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the port’s $5-million budget request.
Meanwhile, St. Joe Co., the town’s namesake business icon and major landowner, has signed a three-year agreement to provide marketing and cover administrative costs of a renewed port operation. St. Joe Co. currently lists Port St. Joe among its top four targeted investment projects.
The company still owns 90% of the land around the port, including the 180-acre former mill site and its 2,000 feet of bulkhead, plus 4,700 acres of adjacent undeveloped land, including three miles of canal frontage, says Barry Sellers, executive director of the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce and point man for county economic development.
Meanwhile, Eastern Shipbuilding Group will create jobs as it leases 20 acres next to the site’s deepwater bulkhead. The shipbuilding firm, which is leasing the property from St. Joe, will use it to outfit vessels as it expands.
“What’s needed now is customers," says Tom Gibson, attorney for the port authority.
Sellers says he has three or four prospective tenants. A land lease or sale could take care of the bank loan. He’s also planning a fundraising campaign.
Says Wheeler: “It would seem that things are starting to line up."