Port reports record revenue amid ongoing improvements
By Marilyn Bowden
The Port of Miami ended fiscal 1999-2000 with record revenues, said Director Charles Towsley, overcoming a blip in the charts for fiscal '98-99.
Ongoing capital improvements at the port, he said, should translate into fair sailing ahead.
"It's a great way to start out a new millennium," Mr. Towsley said. Total port revenues for Oct. 1, 1999, through Sept. 30, 2000, were $72,479,513, he said an increase of nearly $12 million over figures from the port's previous fiscal year.
"That's the first double-digit increase in several years," Mr. Towsley said.
Figures from the Office of the Director at the port show that in '96-97 revenues jumped $12 million above levels recorded for '95-96.
"The numbers reflect increased activity in cargo tonnage and in cruise-ship passengers," Mr. Towsley said.
The port's report shows a projected $1.8 trillion in economic impact from 7,804,946 tons of cargo passing through the port in the year while cruise-ship passengers are credited with ejecting about $1.9 trillion into the Miami area economy over the same period.
Mr. Towsley said the increase in cruise passengers is a result of larger ships. The port is home to 17 major cruise vessels, he said "more than any other port I am aware of."
The two largest ships using Miami as a home port are Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, which arrived in 1999, Mr. Towsley said, and the most recent arrival, Explorer of the Seas each capable of carrying 3,600 passengers.
Also new are Carnivals' Triumph and Victory, and Norwegian's Norwegian Sky.
The numbers tell a very different story from a comparable report issued by the port a year ago.
"Last year we had a bit of a dip across the board for various reasons," Mr. Towsley said. "This year we're back up."
Reasons for the fall-off in '98-'99 compared to '99-'00 included foul weather notably Hurricane Mitch, which tore through Central America and an economic downturn in Brazil, he said.
In its '99-'00 fiscal year, the port embarked on a five-year capital improvement program that will help keep revenues on an even keel, Mr. Towsley said. In the year, expenses totaled $116.92 million, according to port statistics.
"This year we had extraordinary expenses for gantry cranes," he said. "They are the lifeblood of cargo transport. They required expensive items such as generators and diesel engines replaced."
Mr. Towsley said a number of further improvements to both the cargo and the cruise side of the business are projected for the near future.
"On the cargo side, we will bid for two new gantry cargo container cranes, which represent a $5 million-$6 million per crane investment," he said.
"We will extend the wharf at berth six an additional 1,000 feet and begin a number of cargo container terminal improvements."
The port is working with local transportation agencies, Mr. Towsley said, to make the movement of trucks at the port more efficient. For example, he said, the county's planning organization is working to have the Florida Department of Transportation build an I-95 connector to remove some of the truck traffic from Biscayne Boulevard.
"Longer term," Mr. Towsley said, "we're working with them on a $300 million tunnel project."
Some port tenants, he said, are taking advantage of empowerment zone incentives for projects to improve the flow of goods to and from the port.
"MaerskSealand has completed a major gateway project for their terminal that just opened this week," Mr. Towsley said.
The new facility has 10 interchangeable lanes for trucks with two emergency bypass lanes, said Mark Baker, general manager of Universal Maritime Service Co., the stevedoring arm of MaerskSealand.
He said the new system is capable of servicing more than 1,000 trucks a day using a computerized system, each at less than a minute.
"The gate facility is attached to the new office complex housing the general manager, his staff, maintenance, problem resolution clerks and steamship-line reps," he said.
The facility has computer connections with customs, agriculture and all the steamship lines the company services.
Mr. Towsley said the Army Corps of Engineers is halfway through an environmental and feasibility analysis of a project to deepen portions of the port to 50 feet, with results possible by the end of 2001.
With 726,626 tons going to and from its shores, Guatemala was the Port of Miami's top trading partner in 2000, statistics show.
"That reflects our strong market for perishables coming in," Mr. Towsley said.
Exports are not broken down by country, he said, but typically include electronic goods and appliances, grocery products, iron and steel products and building supplies.
"On the import side, Spain once again is our No. 1 trading partner," he said.
Ships arriving from Spain carry tiles, marble, granite, olive oil, olives and the like, Mr. Towsley said.