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Port of Gulfport talks with potential major tenant

By JACK WEATHERLY 

The Port of Gulfport is in talks with what would be its largest tenant in terms of leased space.

SeaOne Gulfport LLC is proposing a $450 million liquified natural gas facility, according to port Executive Director Jonathan Daniels.

The 36-acre site would be part of the port expanded since Hurricane Katrina as part of $566 million from the federal government.

Daniels and SeaOne are talking about a 40-year lease, which would offer stability and add significantly to tonnage for the port, Daniels said.

Initially, the Sun Herald of Biloxi reported on Monday, the project would create about 70 jobs, roughly half of which would be highly skilled professionals such as engineers. Support personnel would be needed in accounting, marketing and security, according to Daniels and SeaOne President and Chief Operating Officer Bruce Hall. The average salary would be about $70,000, Daniels told the Sun Herald.

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors agreed to write off half of SeaOne’s personal property taxes for 10 years.

In exchange for the $566 million in Housing and Urban Development money originally designated for low-income housing, the state agreed to create 1,300 jobs at the port, 51 percent of which would be for low- and medium-income individuals.

Daniels deferred to the Mississippi Development Authority in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal on Tuesday about the number of jobs that have been certified as counting toward that goal.

In February, TopShip agreed to create 1,000 jobs in exchange for the state borrowing $11 million to finance worker training and incentives.

Seven hundred of those jobs must be created within three years after the completion of work on the port, which is expected in 2017. Fifty-one percent of those jobs, or 357, would have to go to low- or medium-income individuals.

The port is seeking to count jobs at the Island View Casino Hotel, located on port property, toward the ultimate goal. The hotel is expected to create 300 jobs.

Daniels said that the MDA has a draft agreement about the hotel jobs. Jeff Rent, spokesman for the MDA, said in an email that “we cannot discuss any MOU which is still in negotiation.”

“The certified jobs count for the last quarterly report is 99 jobs, 56 of which are held by low and moderate income individuals.”

The jobs could count. While the MDA “action plan” stipulates that the positions should be “maritime,” there is no definition of the word in the plan, Daron Wilson, chief operating officer for the MDA disaster recovery division, told the Journal last year.

“At some point in time, we’re going to have to have a conversation with HUD to see if they truly can be counted toward that,” Wilson said.

The possible return of Chiquita International to the port would bring 300 to 350 jobs. The banana importer has not made an announcement about its decision of whether or not to leave the Port of New Orleans.

However, it told the Journal in late May that leaving New Orleans was under consideration.

Daniels said that he had recently talked with Chiquita, though he did not divulge the nature of the conversation.

Chiquita left the Port of Gulfport about two and one-half years ago, though it kept a ripening facility in the city of Gulfport the John Fayard Moving and Warehouse facility, Daniels said

Gary LaGrange, New Orleans port chief, said in an interview with the Journal that an 11th-hour decision by an Irish company not to buy Chiquita and the subsequent sale to Brazil-based Cutrale have have muddied the waters with the Louisiana port.

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