It is no small matter for the CEO of the Port of Seattle to publicly offer that they are potentially considering the shutdown of operations at Terminal 46. In light of efforts to build an arena in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood to bring the NBA back to the Emerald City, as well as court the NHL, this is a rather significant -- and perhaps, beneficial -- admission.
On Wednesday, the March 2016 issue of Seattle Business magazine was released, featuring a profile of Ted Fick, who was hired by the Port to run its business in September 2014. In the profile, when asked about upgrades to Port terminals to handle so-called "mega ships," Fick offered this choice curious insight:
The Port of Seattle expects to invest as much as $300 million to convert Terminal 5 on Harbor Island for the big ships, while Tacoma intends to make its Terminal 4 a mega terminal. "We also are looking at improving container terminals in both harbors to accommodate up to the 18,000- to 20,000-TEU ships being built today," says [Port of Tacoma CEO John] Wolfe. TEUs are 20-foot equivalent units, a method of measuring cargo capacity.
New, highly automated terminals planned for Harbor Island, Fick observes, will likely be able to handle virtually all of Seattle’s container traffic volume and could lead the alliance to shut down Terminal 46, near the SoDo-Stadium district, when Hanjin Shipping Co.’s lease ends in 2025. But Fick and the Port may have other plans for the area. Asked about Terminal 46, Fick says cautiously that he would more likely be a buyer than a seller.
Fick inherited a public relations battle with the City of Seattle and supporters over the proposed Seattle Arena project. Butted against SoDo and the Stadium District, the 82-acre Terminal 46 along Seattle's waterfront has long been the point of contention in the Port's opposition of the arena. Container traffic from the busy terminal, the Port argues, would be negatively affected by the influx of event attendees at the new arena, crippling not just the city's economy but the state's.
An environmental impact statement prepared for the arena project found that the Port's transportation operations would be minimally impacted by event traffic.
The Port has continued to assert that the traffic analysis in the EIS was insufficient, and that T-46 is a vital aspect to the health and wellness of the whole enterprise. The mere suggestion by anyone associated with the authority, least of all its chief executive officer, that they could do away with container activity at the terminal is something unlikely to have been heard even a month ago.
Just last year, the Port filed paperwork with the city with the intention to significantly invest in upgrades at the terminal, including "structural improvements, new crane rail beams, electrical upgrades and repair of stormwater outfall," per the Puget Sound Business Journal. To potentially reverse course in less than a year would represent a seismic shift in approach and philosophy.
Yet, management of operations changed last August, with container decisions now being made by the Northwest Seaport Alliance, a joint effort with the Port of Tacoma to increase efficiency between the two entities to keep them competitive in a quickly changing global market. The alliance sees investment in these mega terminals as critical to the futures of both members.
As noted, such a change could make T-46 expendable.
Fick, meanwhile, in addition to managing Sea-Tac Airport is in charge of managing other assets of the Port, including land and economic development. The profile notes the executive was instrumental in allowing the city of Des Moines, just south of Seattle, to build a business park on 87 acres of Port-owned land near the airport to aid in the city's commercial growth. Fick's seaport insights mention wanting to be a "buyer" rather than a "seller," suggesting that the Port is interested not in getting rid of the land at T-46 but rather developing it into something else.
KING5-TV's Chris Daniels points out that many proposals for the land at Pier 46 have been put forward over the years. One such proposal, Vision 46, suggested over a decade ago that the Port could convert the terminal into docks for cruise ships, making further gains in a lucrative business for the city, as well as building more residential space for downtown workers. Until now, the Port has vehemently opposed any and all suggestions of using the land for anything other than maritime shipping operations.
Interestingly, Vision 46 also proposed a new arena as part of its development.
Such a consideration could actually turn out quite beneficial to the Stadium District and the Seattle Arena. Daniels notes that the cruise ship industry garners the Port about 3,700 jobs and $441 million in annual revenue. Behind Sea-Tac Airport, the cruise industry has been seen as the biggest growth sector for the Port's business over the last few years.
Creating a hub for these ships where they have easy and immediate access to the newly developing Stadium District neighborhood and Pioneer Square, as well as events at any of the three sports & entertainment facilities, adds significant value to tourism and the city's economy as a whole.
Squabbles over freight mobility and traffic from Terminal 46 and the new arena's impact would also be resolved.
We are years from such a choice, if it should ever come to pass. Fick says studies are being conducted to determine options for the land at T-46, as well as land in Interbay, though a Port spokesman told Daniels that he was not aware of any such studies. For its part, the Northwest Seaport Alliance released a statement saying that, while potential property uses are frequently considered, no actions have been taken to change the terminal's use. And then there's Hanjin's operating lease, which is good for another nine years.
Still, Fick floating the closure and re-purposing concept on a piece of land the Port has all but declared would have to be pried from its cold, dead hands is more than enough to turn heads.
More immediate, it brings into relevant question arguments and assertions by the Port of long-term effects regarding the arena and the proposed street vacation, which is expected to be voted upon by the city council within the next couple of months.
UPDATE: Seattle Business magazine issued a correction to their original profile on Friday, March 4, stating:
"The following statement should not have been attributed to Fick: Some insiders speculate that the increased efficiency could lead the alliance to shut down Terminal 46, near the SoDo-Stadium district, when Hanjin Shipping Co.’s lease ends in 2025."