Seattle's Full Court Press

It’s not easy being an urban port. Case in point is Seattle’s naturally deep-water port located to the south of that city’s downtown. For years, developers have coveted the waterfront property that serves as one of the nation’s largest container port operations. Instead of a working waterfront, they envision boutique hotels, condos and stadiums. The battle for the survival of the Port of Seattle as a “job generator” has been continuous for at least the last 30 years.

But lately, the threat has become more direct. That’s because a San Francisco hedge fund manager has teamed up with submissive local elected officials to develop a new sports complex sandwiched between a major rail terminal, a state highway and a container terminal.

The city’s own planning agency and transportation leaders at the state Legislature have raised red flags about this location and the threat posed to the port and the middle class jobs it supports. The arena’s construction also comes at a time of growing competition from other ports throughout North America.

Given the lack of interest in the Port of Seattle by local elected officials, perhaps the port should reconsider its $300 million contribution to a waterfront tunnel? The money might be better spent on mitigating the negative impacts of the proposed arena, considering the competitive picture is evolving and intensifying with the expansion of the Panama Canal and port expansion occurring in areas ranging from Prince Rupert and Lazaro Cardenas to numerous East and Gulf Coast ports.

It comes down to basic survival — for the port and for those who work and rely on a vibrant and competitive port. Basketball can be a tough game, but at this point, the ball is in the port’s court.

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. Contact him at

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