Port needs $350 million in improvements, interim director says
By Charlotte Libov
Port of Miami officials must spend $350 on capital improvement projects in the next five years to keep it modern and competitive with other ports, Interim Director William Johnson said.
He said in an interview that selling advertising space in the port terminal and bringing in concessionaries would help defray the modernization costs.
"We need to spend several million dollars over the next five years to remain competitive and grow our business," Mr. Johnson said. "I need to demonstrate to the port tenants that the port is well-managed - that it's got its budget under control, including security costs - and to provide a viable capital plan which demonstrates realistic growth," he said.
"The port has to pay for itself and has to operate in the black. We don't look to property taxes to pay for it."
Mr. Johnson was named interim director after Charles Towsley stepped down in May. But he indicated that he expects his position to become permanent, and Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess indicated when he named Mr. Johnson to the temporary post that it could become permanent.
Mr. Johnson is to meet with Mr. Burgess today (7/13) to discuss his proposed spending plan, said port spokeswoman Andria C. Muniz.
"We intend to work with the county commissioners on this," Mr. Johnson said.
He said the port needs a new bulkhead, apron work, improved drainage, asphalt, fencing and new cargo and cruise facilities for cruise and freight customers.
He said at least some of the money could come from streamlining the port's operating costs. He said it could save $3 million in security costs as well as rent out terminal space for advertising and concessions.
"Over the past several years, the security costs at the port have grown astronomically, from $4.1 million before 9/11 to $17 million now," he said. He said operating costs for security come out of the port's budget although the federal government will pay for structural measures.
"We have gotten money for security capital but not for the operating costs. We've had to defer maintenance," he said.
There are ways to cut the security budget "and still be compliant and safe," he said, adding that he is still trying to figure out how that can be done.
Mr. Johnson said the port, like the airport, should rent advertising space in its terminals. "We could go through a competitive bidding process to do this, and that could generate $1 million," he said. "We need to see what has worked well in other ports and airports, including Miami's."
In addition, he envisions concessions, such as restaurants, in the port. "We could have a Starbucks in the terminal. I understand that on the cruise side they want the passengers to go straight into the vessels, but some might want to get coffee at Starbucks."
"The port is a business," Mr. Johnson said. "We need to be sure we have a healthy bottom line, and we need to demonstrate that to our partners, the cruise lines and their passengers, and to our cargo partners, the truckers, stevedores and longshoremen who help.
"Our objective is to make the port No. 1 in the country, which means we have to work 1,000% seven days a week to push our agenda," he said. "The port has a brilliant future."