White House expediting Port of Miami reviews, plans to deepen channel this year

The White House announced yesterday that it plans to complete all federal reviews for the Port of Miami dredging project by next month — with the aim of finishing the channel’s deepening by the end of this year. Miami’s “Deep Dredge” plan is one of five of “national significance” across the U.S. that will be expedited, President Barack Obama said, at the beginning of a two-day campaign trip in Florida. The project involves deepening the channel to 50 feet, allowing for so-called “superships” to dock in Miami. It currently sits at 42 feet.

“It’s a pretty sweeping announcement,” said John Carver, the Miami-based international port director for Jones Lang LaSalle. “You can’t do the work until you’ve done the studies, and have the permitting in place, so this is a move to keep this process moving.”

Many of those ships are expected to come to Miami due to the widening of the Panama Canal project, which has already begun some drawing logistics firms to invest in Miami’s industrial real estate in anticipation.

In a statement, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the move would help further the county’s efforts to “increase international trade and commerce.”

The Panama Canal expansion is slated for completion in 2015.

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“I think there’s a big feeling that this is a real opportunity for Miami to make its move — the Panama Canal is really not the game changer,” Carver told The Real Deal. “The game changer is the trend towards the use of larger vessels.”

The kinds of firms that could see a benefit if the plan goes through are the logistics and trade companies that have been leading Miami’s industrial sector, which most recently reached 6.2 percent vacancy, the lowest in Florida, according to data from CBRE.

“It has the potential to allow Florida to really drive its economy through a new focus on logistics and international trade,” Carver said. “That has a ripple effect all the way through the state.”

Some doubts remain about just what kind of impact the port project will have on Miami’s industrial market.

“It’s something that many people have looked forward to, but there are still many questions,” said Chris Spear, an industrial associate at Miami-based ComReal. “We will have the capability to bring in the larger ships, but the impact it will make has been questioned by some in the logistics and freight-forwarding business.”