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Tuesday, December 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Condos, shopping center wrong direction for Pier 46

Special to The Times

Seattle can benefit from a spirited discussion about how to create more jobs in the maritime and transportation industries here, but talk of turning a modern, international shipping terminal into condos and a shopping center is an unnecessary distraction that threatens thousands of jobs and the region's future as a major trade center.

Several downtown Seattle developers are promoting a plan to convert the Port of Seattle's Terminal 46, located along the Duwamish west waterway south of downtown, into a "village" with shops, restaurants and condominiums.

Terminal 46 is one of the Port's most-important facilities. More than $70 million is being invested to upgrade and expand it. Improvements include three new cranes (the largest in the world) for a total of six, a 16-lane truck gate, new buildings, strengthening the pier, and adding 18 acres of new space. It's sited in an ideal location — water depth at the pier accommodates the world's largest container ships, and railroad transfer yards are located just minutes away.

To improve truck access to Terminal 46, the state — with contributions from the port and private companies — just built an $83 million ramp over Fourth Avenue South and the railroad tracks — basically connecting the terminal directly to Interstates 5 and 90.

International trade is extremely important to Washington's economy. The Port's facilities, including Sea-Tac airport, are directly responsible for nearly 83,000 jobs, according to a 1999 study. Harbor activities generate more than $100 million in state and local taxes.

Jobs related to Seattle's harbor are located throughout the economy and in every region of the state. They range from farmers in Eastern Washington who grow hay for export to Japan to tug-boat operators who nudge the big ships up to the dock. There are also thousands of people who drive trucks, trains and forklifts. International trade provides work for lawyers, accountants, freight forwarders/brokers and government workers.

Seattle's protected, natural deep-water harbor is the envy of ports throughout the world. The Port invested about $600 million of public money during the 1990s in new container terminals to leverage the advantage of our harbor's natural assets. And private companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars more in facilities and equipment to serve those terminals.

International trade through West Coast ports is projected to continue growing over the next 10 years. Unlike some other ports, Seattle and Tacoma are well-positioned and have the capacity to accommodate increased container traffic. And more trade — more container traffic — means more jobs.

Public discussion of a real-estate development at Terminal 46 sends a chilling message to the industry. Steamship lines, and the land-based companies that support them, invest millions of dollars in facilities and marketing. They make long-term decisions about where to operate. If Terminal 46 is lost to condos and shops, how long will it be before other facilities are targeted by developers?

This is a major public-policy issue with very long-term implications. There will be no turning back if working waterfront space is converted to other uses. Condos, shops and restaurants can be sited just about anywhere. Big ships need deep-water ports and adjacent land to handle their cargoes.

We believe Seattle must preserve the harbor's ability to serve ships — both for the business that is there today and for changes that may bring more or different kinds of shipping business in the future.

Who could have imagined 10 years ago, for example, that nearly a half-million people would be boarding cruise ships in Seattle? Ten years ago the industry didn't exist here. This past summer, more than 1,000 jobs and $124 million in business revenue resulted from those cruise-ship calls — calls that wouldn't be made if the waterfront that serves them had been converted to other uses 10 years ago.

The Port's Harbor Development Strategy 21 committee, which included real-estate developers and other community leaders, recommended that increasing trade and cargo flows through Seattle's gateway should be the Port's highest priority in the harbor. Continuing to invest in maritime facilities and services — and maintaining ship access to the harbor — is critical to achieving that goal.

Seattle's harbor creates tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. We hope community leaders will join with us in an effort to continue growing business in the harbor — and creating the good jobs that are needed for the community.

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents steamship lines, terminal operators and other companies engaged in international trade and transportation.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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