Proposed SODO arena is not the only concern for Seattle's port



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Posted on July 10, 2012 at 6:18 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 10 at 6:21 PM

SEATTLE -- In the game over a proposed sports arena in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, there's a one-on-one battle emerging.

And it has nothing to do with basketball.

The Port of Tacoma recently snagged two lucrative customers from the Port of Seattle. The biggest deal was announced in March, involving the “Grand Alliance” of three container shipper lines, and could shift the crown for the region’s biggest Port.

“The Port of Tacoma is one of the legs of our economic stool,” said Tacoma/Pierce County Business and Trade Development Manager Gary Brackett.  “We are all pleased.” 

Brackett touted the on-dock rail system, which allows crews to off load ship containers directly onto train, as a contributing factor for the Port’s success, as well as the “undeveloped land base”.

“That has contributed to its ability to offer more competitive rates for customers,” said Brackett.

And while the two ports compete against each other, they are also attempting to reposition themselves on the global landscape.

The world’s biggest ships, up to a quarter mile long and boasting the ability to hold 10,000 standard shipping containers, will soon be able to pass through the Panama Canal. The famous waterway is undergoing a massive widening project, which has prompted several U.S. East Coast ports to dredge their harbors in hopes of luring the big ships.  Western Ports are concerned that ships from the Far East could skip the entire Pacific coast when the widened Panama Canal is scheduled to open in 2014.

“Knowing the Panama Canal opening, it has everyone thinking about what does it mean,” said Port of Seattle Seaport Director Linda Styrk. She acknowledged the Seattle port was disappointed by the “Grand Alliance” and the loss of thousands of container units to Tacoma.

Styrk said she believes the Port of Seattle is still in solid position, especially with the addition this week of three new “Super Post Panamax” cranes, which can handle the biggest ships in the world.  Terminal 18 already had three, and the addition will double the number. Styrk said those cranes can be an incentive for those biggest ships to come to Seattle.  The Port of Tacoma has 9 “Super Post Panamax Cranes.”

Seattle has a mix of “on-dock” and “near-dock” rail to move containers inland.  “If you have a lot of clients, with multiple destinations, near dock cargo is better,” said Styrk, who added that freight mobility ties into any future business pitch and that it’s already been discussing the Seattle Arena proposal with customers.

“Certainly, it’s something we address with our customers when we’re competing for business,” said Styrk,  “We don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”

She said the Port is not fundamentally opposed to a new neighbor -- i.e. Chris Hansen's plan for a $490 million basketball and sports arena -- but the jury is still out. “If cargo can continue to flow and meet all their needs, that’s fine," she said