The Alabama State Port Authority is looking to diversify its business yet again, with a contract to let an outside company manage the automobile facility currently being built.
Port CEO Jimmy Lyons said the agreement with AutoMobile International Terminal (AIT) would allow the port to handle vehicles, which it has never done before.
The ships that currently come into the port are not equipped to handle automobiles and even if they were, Lyons said, the port doesn’t have anywhere to store the vehicles.
“We don’t have the capacity for vehicles right now,” he said. “To handle automobiles, you have to have a large parking lot. We don’t have that here.”
With this concessionaire agreement, Lyons said, the port will go about transforming 60 acres that made up, in part, a bulk coal storage area into a roll-on/roll-off automobile terminal. It will be mostly a parking lot with one or two small buildings, including a processing facility, Lyons said.
“It adds a capability we just don’t have right now,” he said. “It’s also financially good for us because it’s another diversification. It helps us in the long term financially to have a brand-new source of revenue.”
The facility will allow vehicles to be offloaded from barges, stored and then transported by either train or truck, Lyons said. The port had originally looked at opening the terminal at its Theodore location, but because access to the railroads is better downtown, the decision was made to open it at the main port facility, he said.
AIT is a joint venture between Terminal Zárate, S.A., headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Neltume Ports, headquartered in Santiago, Chile. AIT is made up of “good, strong players,” Lyons said. Terminal Zárate, he said, has a “very good reputation and existing relationships” with a number of the top global automakers.
The port has been working on a contract for a number of years, Lyons said, with a memorandum of understanding having been completed in 2018. The contract was finalized recently, he said.
The agreement allows the port and AIT to move forward with plans to market the $60 million facility to potential customers. This idea will culminate with an event in April where the port will invite global car and farm equipment makers to the site, Lyons said. If a project is visible, it’s more likely to get the attention of potential customers than if it is just being talked about, he said.
The facility will bring about 50 or 60 jobs to Mobile with another 30 or 40 longshoreman jobs that average $30 per hour, Lyons said. The facility is expected to have a throughput of 150,000 units once it’s up and running.
“It’s a boost to the overall longshoreman workforce,” he said.
The new facility is serviced by five Class I railroads and a rail ferry service with connections throughout North America and immediate, unencumbered access to major U.S. interstate and highway systems.
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