Ex­panded Port of Gulf­port ready for its pub­lic de­but

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MARY PEREZ

It hass been in the works since 2007, and now the $570 mil­lion restora­tion and ex­pan­sion of the Port of Gulf­port is com­plete.

A rib­bon-cut­ting and open house to mark the end of Phase I be­gins at 10 a.m. Satur­day, Dec. 1, out­side in the north har­bor of the port. Af­ter the speeches, free pub­lic tours of the port and the new USM Ma­rine Re­search Cen­ter will be of­fered for all ages.

The tours will pass three mas­sive gantry cranes that cost $10 mil­lion each and had to be brought from China, since no Amer­i­can man­u­fac­turer makes them, said Jonathan Daniels, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the port. They ul­ti­mately were re­spon­si­ble for Chiq­uita’s re­turn to the port, he said.

WHAT’S NEW

The 31 pro­jects, com­pleted by 1,700 con­struc­tion work­ers, came in $41 mil­lion un­der bud­get, Daniels said, and they were com­pleted while the port was op­er­at­ing.

The north har­bor and west side of the port were re­built at a cost of about $400 mil­lion. All

of the ten­ant sites were ex­panded, and 300,000 square feet of ware­house space was built, in­clud­ing 21,000 of chilled space.

Gulf­port is the sec­ond­largest green fruit port in the U.S., he said, and cargo un­loaded in Gulf­port trav­els by rail and truck as far east as Charleston, South Carolina, as far north as Chicago, and as far west as South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

It’s also one of 17 strate­gic ports in the U.S. au­tho­rized to han­dle mil­i­tary cargo.

“It’s a very dif­fer­ent port than it was,” Daniels said. When he came to work at the port in June 2013, the restora­tion and ex­pan­sion pro­ject was at about the half­way mark.

He was warned not to take the job, he said, and was told that Gulf­port can’t com­pete with other ports in the Gulf of Mex­ico and that the feds were threat­en­ing to take the pro­ject away, Daniels said.

By then, the port was el­e­vated to 14 feet to safe­guard it from fu­ture storm surges. In 2014, nine years af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and seven years af­ter the pro­ject was ob­li­gated by Con­gress, con­struc­tion was ready to be­gin.

WHAT A DIF­FER­ENCE CRANES MAKE

The rail-mounted gantry cranes ar­rived in 2016, and Daniels said the cranes were “ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal” to the re­turn of Chiq­uita to Gulf­port. The com­pany that im­ports ba­nanas left Gulf­port for the Port of New Or­leans. It re­turned two years later with a 40-year lease, and it now is able to bring in ships that carry twice the amount of cargo into Gulf­port, he said.

Be­fore that, the long­est lease was 3 to 4 years, Daniels said. Now the short­est is 15 years. Crowley has op­tions to ex­tend that 15-year lease to 30, he said. Dole has a 23-year lease, McDer­mott 40 years, Is­land View Casino 50 years and Che­mours, which ex­panded its op­er­a­tions by 82 per­cent and in­vested in new si­los at the port, has a 60-year lease.

The port is much more di­verse now, he said, and the re­liance on rev­enue from the casino dropped from 57 per­cent to 32 per­cent this last year.

In ad­di­tion to stan­dard ship­ping, he said, the port ten­ants are in­volved in the oil and gas in­dus­try, ship­build­ing, off­shore sup­ply, man­u­fac­tur­ing, tourism and ed­u­ca­tion with the open­ing of the new Ma­rine Science Cen­ter and its 135-foot re­search boat, the R/V Point Sur, which is the only oceano­graphic re­search ves­sel in the north­ern Gulf.

This di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the ten­ant and rev­enue mix is some­thing he said will grow tremen­dously. The bud­get also has grown, he said, with rev­enue that was $14 mil­lion pro­jected to reach $29 mil­lion at the end of the year.

“We aren’t stop­ping there,” he said. The port was ap­proved for an ex­pan­sion in 2017 and is in the process of look­ing at the next level of de­vel­op­ment in Phase II.

JOBS TO COME

With the money al­lo­cated by Con­gress came a re­quire­ment that the port would cre­ate 1,300 jobs.

Daniels said HUD has cer­ti­fied 557 new jobs, which is 43 per­cent of the goal that must be reached by 2022.

“They don’t in­clude con­struc­tion jobs,” he said. They also don’t in­clude trans­porta­tion or long­shore­man jobs. Since the ar­rival of the cranes, he said the Long­shore­man’s Union 1303 has logged 100,000 more hours a year.

It does in­clude hos­pi­tal­ity jobs added at Is­land View Casino, which make up some of the 35 per­cent of jobs that went to low-to-mod­er­ate in­come res­i­dents.

SeaOne Gulf­port, a com­pany that has a lease for a com­pressed gas liq­uids pro­duc­tion plant at the port, would add chemists, mar­ket­ing and other pro­fes­sional jobs, Daniels said.

The port has spon­sored 36 job aware­ness pro­grams to help res­i­dents un­der­stand what jobs skills they need.

“If they get a job at the port, great,” he said, but some go to work in ship­build­ing, which he said still ben­e­fits the com­mu­nity.

For a long time the port was seen in iso­la­tion he said, and was not as in­volved in the com­mu­nity as it needed to be.

“We did not do a very good job of get­ting our mes­sage out there,” he said. Now the pub­lic is in­vited to see the port and what it of­fers.

“We tried to lift the veil on Oz,” he said.

JOHN FITZHUGH jc­[email protected]­her­ald.com

Work on phase one of the ex­pan­sion of the West Pier, seen here on Mon­day at the Port of Gulf­port, is com­plete and a rib­bon cut­ting and pub­lic tours are sched­uled for Dec. 1.

Cour­tesy Port of Gulf­port

From a dis­tance they look like amuse­ment rides at a board­walk, but these three cranes are work horses that quickly load and un­load con­tain­ers at the port.

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