September 9 2009 | Latest NewsDock Board approves moving New Orleans Cold Storage Uptown
by Jen DeGregorio, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday September 09, 2009, 11:57 AM
Ellis Lucia / The Times-Picayune
New Orleans Cold Storage, previously located at 3411 Jourdan Rd. on the Industrial Canal, flash freezes tons of chicken for export by ship to Europe, Africa and Asia. A warehouse is pictured here in March 2005.
Embattled poultry exporter New Orleans Cold Storage on Wednesday cleared the final hurdle to a new home on the Mississippi River, gaining approval from the Port of New Orleans' Dock Board to move from the Industrial Canal to a site Uptown.
The vote ends a battle between the port and neighborhood groups over initial plans to relocate NOCS' headquarters to a site near the French Quarter. Residents of the Faubourg Marigny, French Quarter and Bywater fought for more than a year to keep NOCS away from the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves, saying an industrial facility there would harm the environment, cause traffic and threaten historic neighborhoods.
In the end -- and after the intervention of several influential politicians -- the port found another home for NOCS farther upriver. Stevedoring firm Ports America will make room for NOCS at the Henry Clay-Nashville Avenue cargo terminal, amending its lease so the port can build a 147,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse to be leased and operated by NOCS.
"Certainly we listened to the neighborhoods," port President and CEO Gary LaGrange said at a Wednesday news conference, where he was flanked by Lieutentant Gov. Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson and Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans. "We're sensitive people."
The port may have compromised on a location, but the agency preserved its goal of keeping NOCS in the city at a time when many other maritime companies have skipped town. Shipping access to the Industrial Canal has been limited since Hurricane Katrina and was further hampered by the federal closing of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, the only other entrypoint to the waterway.
NOCS has been courted by competing ports since the storm, but NOCS President Mark Blanchard said the 123-year-old firm remained loyal to New Orleans.
"This agreement will allow America's oldest cold-storage company to stay in its namesake town," Blanchard said at the news conference.
NOCS will continue to use its Industrial Canal facility to handle cargo from shallow-draft vessels, said port spokesman Chris Bonura. Larger ships, which cannot fit through the lock that links the canal with the Mississippi River, will use the second facility at the Henry Clay-Nashville Avenue terminal.
Whether Uptowners will welcome NOCS or have concerns similar to those raised in the Marigny, Bywater and French Quarter remains unclear. Residents were still absorbing the news on Wednesday.
"We have had no time to consider the impact on our neighborhood and would welcome an opportunity to meet with representatives of the port to address our questions and concerns," said Marguerite L. Adams, president of the Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association.
Traffic should not be an issue, according to Blanchard, who said that NOCS trucks would use the Clarence Henry Truckway behind the floodwall on Tchoupitoulas Street.
Blanchard and LaGrange described the new site as superior to the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves, which LaGrange said were "the only game in town" when the port earmarked the docks for NOCS early last year. LaGrange explained how the port found a better spot by knocking on doors to see if existing tenants would be willing to share space with NOCS.
Developing the NOCS facility Uptown will cost about the same as building the operation near the French Quarter, or about $42 million, LaGrange said. The state has already pledged $23.5 million in hurricane recovery dollars to the project, and the port has another $4 million in federal grants.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she would try to get some of the $75 million Congress authorized two years ago to help companies affected by the closure of the MR-GO. Sen. Landrieu promised to help only if the port agreed to put NOCS somewhere other than the Gov. Nicholls Street and Esplanade Avenue wharves.
All five members of the seven-member Dock Board who were present for Wednesday's meeting voted in favor of the Uptown move. Commissioners Thomas Westfeldt II, who is a partial owner of NOCS, and James Campbell were absent.
Jen DeGregorio can be reached at 504.826.3495 or firstname.lastname@example.org.