By Letters to the Editor, NOLA.com
On Feb. 3, 2014, the newly constructed USS Somerset, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock of the United States Navy, left Avondale Shipyard to great media fanfare and bittersweet waves. For seven decades, the shipyard had been a bustling, vibrant facility, employing generations of residents at all levels of education and skill sets - 26,000 men and women at its peak. The USS Somerset was the last Navy ship constructed at the storied facility, and its departure coincided with the closing of what had once been the state's largest employer.
Since then, the conspicuous lack of commercial activity on that strategically located acreage along the Mississippi River, with cranes visible from miles away, has energized economic development organizations throughout the state and attracted the interest of potential investors around the nation.
The site also served, in part, to inspire the Port of New Orleans to broaden its perspective about freight-based possibilities as part of its strategic master plan by thinking beyond port-owned property to encompass sites throughout the jurisdiction. Louisiana has a great opportunity to recapture certain types of cargo and services, which would enhance our region's global reputation as a gateway for international trade. Although the port does not have facilities for value added and light manufacturing, Avondale Shipyard does. The port recognizes the site's tremendous potential to grow the region's maritime industry with the attraction of new cargo commodities, value-added manufacturing and services that enhance existing port business. Everyone will benefit from the reactivation of Avondale Shipyard for maritime and logistics related purposes.
A redevelopment project of Avondale's size and economic importance can be complicated, with the coordination of many variables necessary for success. Port officials have been working closely with the property's prospective buyer to do our part to ensure that the development achieves the goals set by the state, Jefferson Parish and private investors. We are pleased that we share a vision with the prospective buyer for additive cargo activity that includes distribution centers, value-added services and manufacturing facilities using imported raw materials coming through Louisiana's port system. Additionally, depending on business need, container-on-barge and access to the New Orleans rail gateway will serve the site well.
At the March 2018 board meeting, Port Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution of support for the redevelopment of Avondale Shipyard for increased economic prosperity. Elected officials, economic development professionals and civic leaders were on hand to applaud the resolution.
Five months later, we remain committed to Avondale's redevelopment and enthusiastically support the progress that has been made toward the day we can all celebrate the reopening of the facility.
Brandy D. Christian
President and chief executive officer, Port of New Orleans
Chief executive officer, New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Corp.