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Ports authority plans to put headquarters building on Concord Street up for sale

Distribution & Logistics
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By Liz Segrist
Published Jan. 20, 2016

The S.C. State Ports Authority plans to sell its longtime headquarters building in downtown Charleston and relocate its office operations to Mount Pleasant.

After an executive session, the board approved putting the nearly 36,000-square-foot brick building at 176 Concord St. on the market. The port owns 1.75 acres there. The board directed the port’s Real Estate Development Commission, headed by former board chairman Bill Stern, to finalize the process of by Feb. 1.

The ports authority has operated from the location since the 1970s.

Ports authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said it is important for the port’s future to be near container operations. The port plans to build an office near the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant on land the port already owns.

“It makes all the business sense in the world ... to be closer to our people and our customers. They (customers) come here and they want to see ships and a terminal. That’s the business we’re in,” Newsome said.

Slowing global trade impacts port volumes

The slowing of the global economy resulted in flat volumes at the Port of Charleston in December when compared with the same time in 2014.

Some 83,000 pier containers came through the port last month, up 0.3% from December 2014.

Newsome said the lower volumes are partially from deceleration in exports from emerging markets and lingering uncertainty over China’s economy.

“Global container trade had its worst year since 2009. ... There is a palpable slowdown in trade right now. ... Whatever happens in world trade or U.S. trade, we have a lot to accomplish,” Newsome said before today’s meeting.

Newsome said the port needs to continue focusing on capturing more discretionary cargo, playing a role in economic development, attracting bigger ships and deepening Charleston Harbor to 52 feet.

The port had 10.2% growth in calendar year 2015 compared with 2014. Newsome said he expects flat to moderate growth over the next six months.

The automotive segment continues to be a bright spot for the port, from the export side — with BMWs and soon with Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans and Volvo S60 sedans — and from imports of materials needed to build the cars.

Board votes

The board approved two contracts today that will advance construction plans for the Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal in North Charleston.

SJ Hamill Construction/United Infrastructure Group secured a $36.8 million change order for the work being done on the containment wall at the future terminal.

The firm is already under contract for the containment wall improvements. The change order includes dredging sand and placing material on the site to prepare it for construction. The dredging work should be completed by November.

The board then approved a $1.06 million contract for Federal Way, Wash.-based BergerABAM to develop a conceptual design for the terminal. This will include system interactions and plans, space allocations, phasing, scheduling, costs and design. The plans should be completed in August.

Phase one of the terminal is on track to be completed in December 2019, Newsome said.

The board also approved a $4.7 million contract for North Charleston-based Hitt Contracting Inc. to build four refrigerated container racks on the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, to support the growth of refrigerated cargo at the port.

Containers, financials

For fiscal 2016, from July through December, the ports authority handled 976,000 TEUs, up 6.2% from the year prior. Twenty-foot equivalent units are the common industry measurement, counting every 20 feet worth of container.

About 551,000 pier containers have come through the ports authority’s terminals in fiscal 2016, up about 5% from the same time last year.

The port has seen 108,000 passengers come through, and 964 ships have docked in fiscal 2016 so far.

The authority reported $19.5 million in earnings for fiscal 2016, up 38% from the same time last fiscal year. Operating revenues were $105 million, and total expenses were $86 million through Dec. 31.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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