NOCS relocation, container traffic increases lauded

A new facility for a long-term Port tenant, recruitment of an operator for niche shipping from the Port’s Inner Harbor, and better than 50% gains in container traffic highlighted New Orleans Port President and CEO Gary LaGrange’s annual State of the Port Address at the Plimsoll Club atop the World Trade Center.

One year ago, LaGrange placed the relocation of New Orleans Cold Storage to the Mississippi River as his top priority. In June, Port officials secured $30.5 million in capital outlay money to renovate the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf to become the new home of NOCS.

‘We searched for a location for this facility throughout the Port and found Governor Nicholls was the economically feasible solution,’ LaGrange said. ‘This is a site where a longstanding Port tenant can grow its business for many years to come.’

NOCS found itself forced to look for a location on the Mississippi River after silting and the impending closure of the Mississippi River ’ Gulf Outlet effectively cut off deep-draft access to its dockside cold-storage facility. In 2005, NOCS generated 718 direct and indirect jobs and had a $35 million economic impact on the local economy. NOCS officials hope to double its cargo at the new facility on the Mississippi River.

The recovery and growth of the Port’s container traffic also topped the Port’s agenda and LaGrange pointed to strong current cargo figures and plans for expansion.

‘During the first half of 2007, we’ve seen exceptional growth in container cargo ’ overall up 54 percent compared to last year,’ LaGrange said. ‘Mediterranean Shipping Company, Hapag-Lloyd, Seaboard Marine and Maersk are all growing their container cargo through the Port of New Orleans.’

In August, Seaboard Marine announced plans to enter into a long-term lease with the Port to operate the Port’s France Road Container Terminal, which had been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina. The Miami-based shipper currently operates a twice-weekly service with three ships in New Orleans.

‘We hope Seaboard can grow that business and possibly double their services between New Orleans and Latin America,’ LaGrange said.

The Port’s cruise and tourism sector also realized remarkable milestones throughout the past year, highlighted by the opening of the Port’s $37 million Erato Street Cruise Terminal and Parking Garage in October. The state-of-the-art cruise terminal has garnered national and international awards for its design and passenger amenities. LaGrange said Port officials are also in the design phase for a new cruise terminal at the Poland Avenue Wharf, which could be completed by 2009.

Carnival Cruise Line officials also signed an extension this summer to keep the world’s largest cruise line sailing from New Orleans through at least 2010.

‘Carnival officials cited increased demand for their New Orleans product when they made the announcement,’ LaGrange said. ‘We are continuing to work with Carnival to return the company’s year-round seven-day cruises to New Orleans, as well. And, the Port is pleased to report Norwegian Cruise Line will home-port a new, larger balcony ship ’ the Norwegian Spirit ’ next month.’

LaGrange said preliminary figures indicate the 2007 cruise season bounced back to well over 50 percent of pre-Katrina levels, as about 500,000 passengers will embark or disembark from New Orleans. In 2004, the Port had 740,000 passengers, the last full year unaffected by the storm.

‘This is all good news for the Port and our city’s tourism industry,’ LaGrange said.

Another project underway is the riverfront development plan, initiated when the City of New Orleans and Port officials signed an agreement in the spring of 2006 to streamline the permitting process for riverfront projects.

‘As a result of our agreement, a comprehensive plan called ‘Reinventing the