After all, there is a “difference between being IN the community and being PART of the community”, a sentiment driven home by Mr. Harris, and this public meeting was just one example of how the Port District supports the community and will continue to do so moving forward.
The meeting was organized around 3 topics: 1) Where the port has been, 2) Where the port is now, and 3) Where the port is going. In the 2 years since Mr. Harris has been Director of the port, it is true that a lot has been accomplished. In 2017, the port increased revenue by 11.6% while simultaneously decreasing debt by 61.6% - no small feat. Reducing the debt with the help of the Illinois General Assembly and receiving $2.3 million in grant funding contributed to these numbers. Additionally, a 2017 combined economic impact study on the Port concluded that the Port is responsible for 6,381 jobs and produced a total revenue of $1,186,986,000. The Port has also received a Local Technical Assistance (LTA) grant from Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to help develop a Master Plan for the Port. This momentum, combined with the constant outreach to understand international port best practices and to educate others about opportunities in Chicago, is advancing the Port in ways we have not seen before.
When it comes to where the Port is now, the State of the Port address showed us how the momentum from 2017 has started to materialize into concrete projects and actions. In 2018, the Port received over $17 million in grant funds to start work on the much-needed infrastructure repairs that will not only help make the port more functional but also improve appearance and perception. Infrastructure repairs focus on improvements at Butler Drive, the backbone of the Port, as it connects water-bound cargo to trucks and trains, and includes 1.2 miles of road improvements and 1.7 miles of rail improvements. One of the Port’s major goals is to become the region’s transportation logistics leader by increasing all port activity and focusing on multi-modal aspects including barge, ship, rail, and truck. Improvements at Butler Drive is a first step towards this goal.
The Port is committed now, and in the future, to support the surrounding community. Some examples include housing bees for the honey production of Sweet Beginnings, a local social enterprise that sells raw honey and honey-infused body care products, working with The Nature Conservancy to identify ways to remediate and restore Square Marsh, and collaborating with Active Transportation Alliance on ways to connect the bike park and trails at Big Marsh to Pullman. When it comes to bringing development to the Port, community feedback is highly valued, so there will be a public meeting on September 15th regarding a request for proposal (RFP) for a hotel and boat house to be built near Harborside Golf Course. A hotel would provide local jobs and many other community benefits, and Mr. Harris wants to make sure the community has an opportunity to share their ideas and give feedback prior to the RFP release. Details on this meeting can be found at IIPD.com.
Another big goal is to make the Illinois International Port District the nation’s greenest port by investing in renewable energies, and leading in conservation efforts and environmental practices. The Port has already released an RFP for solar panels to be mounted on the port’s transit sheds, pictured to the left.
There have been concepts put forth for wind turbines and thermal energy as well. The Port has the potential to produce more renewable energy on site than it consumes, so the Port would look into power purchase agreements that would allow them to share excess energy with the surrounding neighborhoods of Hegewisch, Pullman and Riverdale – another example of being PART of the community versus just being IN the community.
Finally, a framework called E.R.I.C. was introduced that will help guide the Port’s future work.
Putting these values at the center of the Port’s upcoming projects and Master Plan will ensure the Illinois International Port District stays true it’s tagline: The Greatest Multimodal Facility in North America.
All numbers sourced from the first annual State of the Port address, which can be downloaded at IIPD.com.