Assess port’s needs before handing its lands to developers
Written by Michael Lewis on October 13, 2015
Revision of PortMiami’s plan for use of its land is getting a vital boost from a county commissioner who recognizes that the current frenzy to hand scarce acres to the highest bidder might ignore the booming seaport’s needs.
Last week commissioners wisely barred measures to commit use of the port’s southeast corner until the county can clear up any legal barriers lingering from the acquisition of the land years ago. Today (10/15), Commissioner Rebeca Sosa seeks a resolution that the county ask current or potential port users about their needs for the next 30 years and, based on that, to update the port’s planning for commercial development.
In order to stall a commission rush to competitive bidding for the port’s southeast corner, Ms. Sosa on Oct. 6 had to invoke a rule against last-minute legislation. Many developers would have bid for all sorts of uses – but would they have met the port’s needs?
That’s the vital question, and one that Ms. Sosa’s legislation seeks to answer. The seaport doesn’t need the highest revenue from any old project at all. What it needs is uses that best mesh with the interests of a growing port in which government has invested billions in tunnels, dredging and cranes to obtain far larger trade flows once an expanded Panama Canal opens next year.
As we reported last week, thanks to a recently deepened channel the port just handled a freighter carrying 9,400 freight containers, far above the 5,700 maximum before dredging. The aim is 14,000-container ships when the canal opens.
Already this year, freight at the port is up 14% and a major consortium of ship owners is being wooed. Those users are inquiring about port infrastructure.
Meanwhile, on the cruise shipping side, Royal Caribbean and the port are cementing a deal for a new terminal for the line’s biggest ships, which aren’t here now. Will other cruise lines want to join in the upgrades?
With those kinds of potential growth, it’s foolhardy to simply seek the biggest-bidding developer of anything to use the port’s land. Sites are so scarce that for two years the port has been pushing its users to consolidate space. Observers say port business growth is constrained by tight land.
The port is our second-largest economic engine after the airport. Why hem it in more without finding out what port users will need?
So Ms. Sosa is seeking a survey of the port’s present and future cruise lines, cargo operators and others about their needs for up to 30 years. That’s a smart call.
Two weeks ago we suggested a revision of the port’s plan in order to take those future needs into account. We suggested it might take years to get around to it. Ms. Sosa’s legislation would have a full-court press by the mayor’s office get it all done in five months. Great thought.
We would add to her legislation a requirement to survey two more port interests that are not specifically cited.
Seaport management itself should join in the assessment, because those managers would look holistically at port and county needs while users will be viewing the future from their own business perspectives, which naturally will skew to their own industries. The big picture is vital.
Then, because of proximity and interests, downtown Miami should also get a voice via the Downtown Development Authority. It was at the most recent authority meeting that Jerome Hollo of Florida East Coast Realty suggested that the seaport’s master plan be updated before deciding on use of the scarce land. And downtown’s concerns about competition and inappropriate port uses merit a careful hearing.
Port Director Juan Kuryla sees a logistics boom in the port’s future that could spread jobs throughout the entire county. While logistics uses of the port’s open space might not produce the highest direct revenue, they might lead to the highest payback to the county as a whole.
Logistics could never win at competitive bidding, but it is key to what makes our seaport a strong economic engine.
Ms. Sosa’s legislation is useful. We should determine the best uses for port land without either rushing to the biggest developer or freezing available land in perpetual limbo. The committee should pass her measures today and the full commission Nov. 3.
The port is a vital engine. Find the needs now and don’t throttle back on its job-creating growth.