An exciting ports proposal

Published 9:35 pm Saturday, March 28, 2009

There was exciting news this week that CenterPoint Properties’ multi-billion-dollar proposal to partner with the Virginia’s Port Authority has cleared its first hurdle. It is just the first step in what will be a long process, but still it bodes well for Suffolk and all of Hampton Roads.

Under the proposal, which CenterPoint estimates is worth about $3.5 billion in today’s dollars, the company would contribute its capital, development and logistics expertise, and Virginia logistics assets, such as its planned intermodal transfer station in Suffolk. Company officials said that inflation would make the agreement worth $9 billion over the course of its 60-year lifespan.

If CenterPoint’s proposal is accepted, the company would provide an up-front payment of $500 million to the port authority, which company President Paul Fisher said Friday would come from CenterPoint’s current capital. The proposal also includes annual payments to the port authority of $219 million, and annual payments to host communities of $128 million. The state also would participate in a profit-sharing program, which CenterPoint estimates could provide between $60 million and $191 million.

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Fisher said the company’s planned investment in Suffolk made a partnership with the ports particularly attractive. The shipping center would occupy 900 acres along U.S. Route 58.

“We are significantly invested in Suffolk,” Fisher said. “This will enhance the attractiveness of Hampton Roads for port users.”

He also noted that Hampton Roads is connected via a Norfolk Southern rail line to CenterPoint’s hometown of Chicago, Ill., where CenterPoint owns several more distribution centers capable of handling cargo from the Virginia ports.

“With the freight connectivity to Chicago, (the ports) will end up with more freight,” Fisher noted. “More boxes mean more jobs, more economic activity.”

No one would argue with more jobs and more economic activity. At this stage, CenterPoint is the only player involved; but that could change. Based on the information at hand, it seems CenterPoint has the understanding and expertise to be successful in such a proposed partnership. The Port Authority should strongly consider this proposal, barring any new developments.

While other communities across our country face dire times, it’s rewarding to realize that Hampton Roads continues to be a hotbed of economic activity. As the old adage goes, it’s a good time to be in Suffolk.