Virginia is for Port Lovers

If you thought port privatization was as dead as the rest of this economy, think again. Recently the Port of Oakland granted a Ports America partnership a 50-year concession and lease for five container terminals. Now comes the news that the Virginia Port Authority is taking offers for its cargo facilities.

Rumors had been floating for months that something was in the works in Virginia. During the big rush by private investors to acquire port franchises in 2006-2007, port officials indicated they would consider privatization if the price was right. State lawmakers have discussed the possibility.

An indication that things might be getting serious came in December, when the Virginia Department of Transportation quietly changed its guidelines for public-private partnerships to smooth the approval of such deals.

Also interesting is the timing of the offer that CenterPoint Properties plans to make for rights to the VPA terminals. The offer, expected to be submitted this week, comes less than two weeks after adjournment of the annual session of the Virginia General Assembly. Having a port privatization proposal on the table when lawmakers were in session could have complicated things.

Virginia is among the most attractive U.S. port franchises for potential private investors. It has a 50-foot channel, good intermodal connections, room for expansion and has benefited from years of sound management. Once CenterPoint's offer is on the table, don't be surprised if others follow.

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com.

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