It is the “first step” says group.

The Maritime Stakeholders Group hailed Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s announcement that the Food Distribution Center would not be built on Navy Yard property as “the first step in developing the world-class international Port of Philadelphia.”

The comments on behalf of the group, which represents a cross-section of organizations involved in promoting the development of the Port of Philadelphia into an area known as Southport, were made by Uwe Schulz, President of the Ports of the Delaware River Marine Trade Association (PMTA), which represents maritime employers of International Longshoremen’s Association labor.

The coalition asked the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority to relocate a proposed 1,100-employee Food Distribution Center (FDC) away from prime waterfront real estate. The FDC location would have jeopardized a major container facility at the Navy Yard area, as well as block access to the three Class 1 railroads that call at Philadelphia’s waterfront.

“Governor Rendell said in March that if industry and private investor interest in the site was shown, he would reconsider the FDC relocation to the Southport area,” said Mr. Schulz. “Now, we must all work together to ensure this will truly be the start of a incredible development that will only serve to benefit our region, state and allow us a major role in globalization,” said Mr. Schulz. “We are optimistic this move will provide a foundation for returning jobs to a shrinking employment market here and allow our region to take a significant role in world trade.”

The Stakeholders group hired a recognized leader in port economies, Paul F. Richardson Associates Inc., to produce an economic and commercial impact study. The study was presented to media conferences and other interested parties in Newark, NJ, Philadelphia and in the Capitol Building in Harrisburg commencing in late March with a goal of making public the reality of Philadelphia’s harbor growth and employment potential—providing such expansion would encompass the proposed FDC site. The port can handle some 544,000 20-foot containerized units of cargo each year. This can grow to 3.5 million teu by 2016, the report concluded.

Today, the port employs some 45,000 longshoremen and port-related workers. This could easily increase to 175,000 as well, according to Ed Zimny of the Richardson consultancy.

Pennsylvania State Rep. William F. Keller, a former longshoreman, who has a leadership role within the coalition of stakeholders has also praised Rendell and has called the proposed commercial port development “a dream for Philadelphia we have been anticipating for 30 years.”

Dennis Rochford, President of the Maritime Exchange of the Delaware River and Bay, which represents nearly 300 maritime businesses, also commented that Governor Rendell “has now left the door open for a significant rebirth in our region through this port development potential.”

The PMTA and Maritime Exchange are among a group of associations representing diverse interests in the Port of Philadelphia who have united on this issue. The others are the International Longshoremen’s Association and a cadre of trade associations, port pilots and related private enterprises, known as The Maritime Stakeholder Group.