Terminal 5’s future, port alliance spotlighted as West Seattle Chamber of Commerce hears from Port Commission co-president

(WSB photos by Patrick Sand)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce took its lunch meeting on the road today – or, more like, to the shore, at Port of Seattle-owned Jack Block Park, where attendees heard from Stephanie Bowman, co-president of the Port Commission.

She introduced new port CEO Ted Fick, in his second week on the job. His first task is to “take a fresh look at the port and how we do business,” explained Bowman.

Her topics: First, the just-completed cruise-ship season, a “thriving industry” with 197 ship calls this year – and, she noted, an industry full of spending visitors, helpful for a “sales-tax-(dependent) state.” Second, Sea-Tac Airport, where international travel is vital, and a terminal serving it is being rebuilt, and where, she said, the baggage-handling system is being improved, too, thanks in part to a “big grant from the federal government” – helping with a $400 million project.

The big issue of specific West Seattle interest: The fate of Terminal 5 (closed since midsummer, as reported here in July), steps away from today’s luncheon location.

“It looks really empty now, but it’s not going to be empty for long,” vowed Bowman. “It’s not going to be a transit center, it’s not going to be a homeless center – it’s going to be a (marine-business location).” She insisted that it is “really important” to the port and that they are continuing to look at “marine-related interim uses,” while the modernization project is under way.

But she spent even more time talking about the just-announced Seattle/Tacoma port “alliance,” something she said was, in one way, 30 years in the making, despite the ports’ longtime competition, which she said in the past decade had become “corrosive.” She pointed out that she had worked at the Port of Tacoma and understands its culture – and observed that Tacoma’s port has more community support than Seattle’s port seems to have, despite its importance as an economic engine and generator of good-paying jobs (averaging $74,000, she said).

Bowman said the talks to create the new Seaport Alliance – “not a merger of the two ports,” she stressed – had been under way for 10 months. She says Tacoma’s current port CEO John Wolfe is likely going to become CEO of the alliance.

“We maintain ownership of all our assets – we still own the marine terminals, they’ll just be managed by the Seaport Alliance,” Bowman explained. What’s NOT part of the Seaport Alliance? The cruise-ship business, homeport fishing industries, the real-estate division (Bell Harbor, World Trade Center, other properties), the airport (which is 75 percent of the port’s revenue, she pointed out).

Next Tuesday, the two ports’ commissions will meet jointly in Auburn and vote on an “interlocal agreement” forming the alliance’s foundation. More details will be worked out over about six months after that, including how to measure its performance, how the CEO would be hired/fired, and more. And once those details are finalized, next spring, the plan will be submitted to a federal regulatory agency. “It’s a paradigm shift,” she declared, saying other ports around the country are expected to take inspiration from it – maybe, for example, Los Angeles and Long Beach. “We’re trying to set an example of how governments can” cooperate toward what’s best for their regions.

In Q/A, asked how the new alliance might function with regard to lobbying, she said that for example if the SODO arena comes up again, there would be two port commissions that could explain why they believe it would be detrimental to the maritime industry. Another followup about Terminal 5 asked about traffic studies; nothing yet, since this is just in a preliminary stage. “We don’t want to negatively affect the community” with increased traffic from bigger ships, she stressed, and also pointed out that much of the terminal value is in its railroad connections. Another T-5 note: The Port just signed its agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the feasibility study of deepening both waterways along West Seattle/Harbor Island. She also estimated that it could be up to five years before T-5 is back up and running.

Another attendee asked about delays in getting cargo out of Terminal 18 on Harbor Island. Port official Linda Stryk, who was also present, talked about a “morning rush hour” that does back up sometimes, but said the flow seems to be better-managed during other times of day – and said it tends to run better than some of its Southern California counterparts.

Speaking of competitors, she talked about something that’s come up in the Port’s discussions of modernization and upgrades – dealing with rivals to the north, such as Prince Rupert, B.C., which is 24 hours closer by sea from Asia, she said, and “is in the middle of nowhere,” meaning the cargo doesn’t have challenges in getting through an urban area. Customers want to know how fast their products can get from Point A to Point B, Bowman explained.

Also at today’s WS Chamber lunch:

WEST SEATTLE YMCA EXPANSION: Josh Sutton, regional executive for the Y (which is a WSB sponsor), spoke briefly about the expansion, first reported here a month ago.

“It’s time to take care of the facility again, even as we strengthen programs in the community” including their school-based program, he said. They’re almost halfway to the $5.5 million fundraising goal for the project and hope to start construction in summer 2015; as noted previously, they expect to keep the existing facilities open throughout the year-long construction project. By the way, if you have questions, the Y just announced another community meeting, including translation in multiple languages, coming up October 22nd; full details here.

CHAMBER ANNOUNCEMENTS: The next After Hours event, October 23rd, will be at Lafarge; November 1st, the Chamber will lead a 9 am-noon cleanup at Walking on Logs (contact Chamber CEO Lynn Dennis – lynn@wschamber.org – to get involved); November 9th is the next Chamber lunch meeting; November 20th is the annual holiday After Hours at Westwood Village.

(P.S. We’ll be adding photos to this report as soon as we’re back at headquarters.)

7 Replies to "Terminal 5's future, port alliance spotlighted as West Seattle Chamber of Commerce hears from Port Commission co-president"

  • heather October 9, 2014 (6:36 pm)

    Marine based businesses? Like what we have around Lake Union and Fremont? That could be interesting. Although the possibility of nothing occurring there for 5 years… ugh

  • LyndaB October 9, 2014 (10:45 pm)

    What about something temporary for waterfront businesses that are closed for the seawall work? I don’t know the what the space over there is like but that’s what I want to put out there.

    2 cents…

  • bolo October 9, 2014 (11:23 pm)

    RE: Terminal 18 “morning rush hour”

    The semis are lined up down the street (in front of the entrance) the night before. Is that part of their mitigation plan? Or part of the problem?

  • Farley October 10, 2014 (7:57 am)

    How about a new Luna Park- amusement park

  • Oliver Little October 10, 2014 (10:16 am)

    I’d like to do a series of concerts there to raise funds for clean up on the Duwamish.

  • sam-c October 13, 2014 (8:42 am)

    improvements to SeaTac’s baggage claim?? Hooray! I think SeaTac’s baggage claim is slower than any other airport I’ve ever been….

  • Robert October 28, 2014 (4:29 pm)

    What about a huge solar array and rain catchment system at T5? West Seattle goes off the grid and harvest its own water! :-) (For at least parts of the year)

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