Metro-East News

America’s Central Port to christen South Harbor soon

The new $50 million South Harbor project at America's Central Port will increase the handling capabilities of Port operators to better accommodate the demands and needs of Midwest growers and shippers.
The new $50 million South Harbor project at America's Central Port will increase the handling capabilities of Port operators to better accommodate the demands and needs of Midwest growers and shippers. dholtmann@bnd.com

A new harbor will open next year on the Mississippi River, and landlocked leaders are eagerly awaiting its first barge.

The South Harbor project is a $50 million addition to America’s Central Port, a rehabilitated military base in Granite City that now handles nearly 3 million tons of cargo every year. And they expect that number to go up by 25 percent in the next five years, thanks to South Harbor.

The port district includes 200 square miles along the banks of the Mississippi River and Chain of Rocks Canal, with harbors, truck and rail facilities, warehouses and a foreign trade zone. It has 76 tenants employing more than 900 people, according to the port authority, though it is estimated that more than 1,400 people in total are employed through the port district and its tenants.

The South Harbor project, which is still under construction, adds a new space for “multi-modal capacity” — allowing companies transporting goods to transfer them among rail, truck, river barge and other modes of transportation.

“It really opens up a strength of our county in terms of distribution logistics and the ability to handle inter-modal from rail to truck to the port,” said John Herzog, economic development coordinator and deputy administrator for Madison County’s community development department. “It gives businesses another reason to locate in Madison County.“

Port Executive Director Dennis Wilmsmeyer said they are very happy about the project’s imminent completion.

“It’s going to be fantastic, not just for Madison County, but really for the St. Louis region in general,” he said. “The U.S. Department of Transportation is forecasting 40-50 percent growth in freight transportation in the next 40 years. We’re trying to position this area as a freight transportation center.”

The impact goes beyond companies trying to move their goods through the Midwest, however: Herzog said there is a “multiplier effect” to projects like this.

“There will be businesses that will locate here because they can manage their logistics more easily,” he said.

It’s going to be fantastic, not just for Madison County, but really for the St. Louis region in general. The U.S. Department of Transportation is forecasting 40-50 percent growth in freight transportation in the next 40 years. We’re trying to position this area as a freight transportation center.

Port Executive Director Dennis Wilmsmeyer

Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan said the project is a key part of the future of the metro-east, which he believes is in logistics: getting products in and out.

“We are trying to put Madison and St. Clair County on the map as being the logistics capital of the country,“ he said. “it’s an integral part of what we’re doing … when you look at the distribution we have in this area, we have 5,000 jobs that weren’t there 10 years ago. I’ve met with company leaders who think it will double in the next 10 years.”

Dunstan said the South Harbor project is a triumph that came out of disaster: It was a U.S. Army depot that was closed by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission many years ago.

“It’s a success story of making lemonade out of lemons,“ Dunstan said.

While it is a local government, the port district receives no state, federal or local subsidies, relying entirely on its own revenue to support itself. However, a $50 million project requires some help, and Wilmsmeyer said they received a $14.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a $4 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The remaining amount has been paid for with a loan from Regions Bank, but as other construction projects require financing, that loan will likely be rolled into a long-term debt, he said.

Located within the Madison city limits, Wilmsmeyer said the city of Madison has been very supportive. “They’re looking forward to the dividends of this project paying off,“ he said.

Construction will be completed in late December, but an opening ceremony was held earlier this week because of the winter weather on the river.

The $50 million project is funded by a $14.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a $4 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The remaining amount has been paid for with a loan from Regions Bank and is expected to eventually be rolled into a long-term note.

While no companies have signed yet, Wilmsmeyer said the South Harbor’s placement will allow them to look at new commodities they have not yet handled at North Harbor — and it will be the farthest north anyone can travel by barge on the Mississippi without going through a lock and dam, Dunstan said.

“Everything is coming together,” Dunstan said. He described South Harbor as another spoke in the wheel of Madison County’s economic development, recovering from the double-hit of the eight-year recession and the levee problem. Now, he said, the levees will be at a 100-year level, the new Mississippi River canal bridge is in place, and South Harbor is set to open.

Meanwhile, Dunstan announced a $2.3 million Economic Development Administration grant for rail track improvements at the port. The project, which is slated to cost a total of $3.3 million, will construct new rail track into a 60-acre industrial site and rehabilitate existing rail tracks that serve warehouses in the port.

“This is great news for America’s Central Port and the city of Madison,” said John Hamm, mayor of Madison and the Port District’s current board chairman. “We continue to strive to bring development and growth to the region, and this is another example of cooperation between all levels of government in order to achieve that.”

The remaining $1 million for the track upgrades will be covered by a $750,000 loan from Madison County and $250,000 in port district funds. Construction will begin in early 2016 and will last about nine months.

“All these spokes are coming together, and it’s a great time for us,” Dunstan said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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