“Exploratory period” announced to study feasibility and community impacts
When the St. Bernard Parish Economic Development Foundation (SBEDF) named maritime development one of their key priorities, results came quickly.
“We asked him (Andrew Jacques, SBEDF executive director) to put some skins on the wall, and that’s what he did,” St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis told the audience in Council Chambers earlier this month.
By “skins,” he was referring to a new, multi-year, $1 billion development project being considered by the Port of New Orleans at the Sinclair Tract, located at 3911 E. St. Bernard Highway. Last spring, in partnership with the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, SBEDF worked to have the 675-acre undeveloped plot of Meraux Foundation land certified by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development for industrial development. When the Port of New Orleans saw that it was identified as a certified site, it became interested.
The Port’s Master Plan recognizes the need to both invest in its current container facilities and develop a second, state-of-the-art container facility to fully capture potential future volume. The Sinclair Tract’s location on the river and its potential ability to both accommodate the larger ships currently being built and additional maritime related activity such as logistics and distribution centers, value added activity, transloading and other businesses make the site worth evaluating. If the site is determined to be appropriate for this light industrial use, the project would be transformational for the parish, bringing jobs and economic stability for generations to come.
“The Port of New Orleans is uniquely suited for this project because of their relationships with ocean carriers, shippers, and terminal operators. As the only container port in the state, the Port has the business partners and expertise to make this project a reality,” said Jacques.
The Port entered into an agreement with the Meraux Foundation to explore the feasibility and community impact of the potential development. During this period, which may take over a year, experts will perform studies to assess the property’s potential for maritime operations, options for improved traffic flow, and how the project may affect residents.
“The proposed maritime center is appealing because it has the potential to produce an economic ripple effect that would reach virtually every household in the parish,” said Jacques. “While the apparent advantages offer tremendous promise, we will be weighing expert findings during this exploratory period very carefully to ensure the project is an overall win for the community.”
Because the property is owned by the Meraux Foundation, any development project must conform with its mission to improve quality of life in St. Bernard Parish.
“We are excited about the potential to create local jobs and generate tax revenue for the parish,” said Rita Gue, the president of the Meraux Foundation. “This exploratory period will help us determine whether the proposed project will deliver a compelling net gain for the people of St. Bernard.”
Recently, Brandy Christian, the president & CEO of the Port of New Orleans, shared her vision for the project in a presentation to parish council members and other government officials, explaining the site’s potential for a new, high-tech container terminal and opportunities to attract new logistics-related businesses.
“This project is a critical component of our master plan to expand the Port of New Orleans and drive economic development across our three-parish jurisdiction and throughout the entire state,” said Christian. “It will allow Louisiana and the port complexes on the Lower Mississippi River unprecedented opportunity to grow cargo volumes, capture new market segments, and drive economic growth in St. Bernard and statewide.”
Video of the presentation is currently airing on the government access channel (Cox channel 76 and AT&T U-verse channel 99). It is also available online at https://tinyurl.com/
“How exciting is it that we have this opportunity? That’s number one: we’re doing something right,” said Parish President McInnis following Christian’s presentation.
He suggested that some may want to start now while others may not be sure this is something they want for St. Bernard, which he referred to as a “bedroom community.”
“What do we want for our children and grandchildren? That’s going to be a big decision for us,” McInnis said. “We need to keep an open mind and go through this process…I do know that the Meraux Foundation’s commitment is to the quality of life in St. Bernard.”
According to the Port, the proposed maritime center could create thousands of well-paying jobs in St. Bernard Parish. Currently, the average annual salary for these types of jobs at the Port’s other centers is $63,000 plus benefits. To help prepare local residents for a new generation of transportation and logistics careers, the Port plans to partner with the school district and Nunez Community College to provide job training.
In addition to direct jobs, Port officials estimate that the maritime center would significantly increase parish government coffers with additional tax dollars as well as push state and federal agencies to deliver on much needed infrastructure projects, such as new streets and bridges to improve traffic flow.
“We look forward to working with our many partners in St. Bernard Parish and to providing key information on the project as it becomes available,” said Ms. Christian.
Christian explained that it is too early in the process for design and renderings of the maritime center, but she discussed new mitigation technologies and buffer options that exist in other parts of the country that could be used in St Bernard. She also provided examples of centers in Charleston, SC, and Uptown New Orleans that are similarly situated.
“A project of this magnitude could be truly transformative, forever altering the trajectory of St. Bernard. This exploratory period will allow us to uncover and consider all of the benefits as well as the challenges,” Gue of the Meraux Foundation explained.
While the scale of this project makes it unique, the Meraux Foundation has extensive experience with land development. The private nonprofit organization frequently leverages its landholdings in accordance with its mission. For example, the foundation has donated and entered into charitable leases of land to add amenities to the parish, such as with the hospital, the Arlene Meraux Elementary School, the sheriff’s substation, the Wetlands Observatory, the Delacroix Island Pier, and the bike trail, among others. The Meraux Foundation also places properties into commerce to boost the economy, such as with the Walmart and Tractor Supply. Revenues generated through leases and sales of property are reinvested into the community via the foundation’s charitable gifts, including an annual scholarship program.
“Our board is highly strategic in how we approach land use, and we always seek to ensure that our actions advance St. Bernard,” said Gue.
She continued, “Our goal is to make this parish a place where our children and grandchildren can prosper and raise their families, and this could be the project that means a brighter future for generations to come. We’re excited to see the results of this exploratory period.”