COCOA — Port Canaveral’s interim chief executive officer, John Walsh, laid out a bold and expansive vision for the future, one that ultimately involves making the Space Coast the key center for shipping in Florida.
Already a $2 billion-plus-a-year economic engine, Walsh presented a plan that calls for further improvements to the port’s shipping canal that would boost the already vibrant cruise industry and also make Brevard County a major player in shipping cargo.
If it ever materializes, that vision would place Port Canaveral ahead of ports in South Florida that also host cruise ships and supersede ports in Jacksonville and Savannah, Ga., in cargo.
“We know we can do more for our community,” Walsh said Tuesday as part of his keynote address for the 2013 State of the Port event.
Tuesday was Walsh’s first State of the Port presentation. It follows the earlier resignation of J. Stanley Payne, who many credit for much of the port’s growth but who also earned the ire of some in the beachside business community and even some on his own staff.
Whether intended or not, Walsh’s lengthy presentation to about 350 people at Brevard Community College’s Cocoa Campus was likely a formal statement on why he deserves the job on a permanent basis. The 52-year-old Walsh already has support of most if not all on the Canaveral Port Authority, and with members of the local business community, to assume the job permanently.
“I think it’s fair to say that he has support among the commissioners for the work he has been doing,” said Tom Weinberg, chairman of the five-member Canaveral Port Authority. “I will tell you from my perspective I think he has done an outstanding job. He has faced some difficult issues and demonstrated the kind of leadership and technical expertise that we’re expecting.”
Among the plans that Walsh outlined:
• Re-establishing a shipping barge conduit between a rail spur in Port St. John and Port Canaveral so that shippers can more easily transport their products by barge from the port to a Florida East Coast Railway
• Eventually connecting the port to a rail line that runs through Kennedy Space Center.
• Dredging even more of the port’s main channel — currently at 44 feet deep — eventually to 50-55 feet which would accommodate the super cargo and mega cruise passenger ships in the future. Walsh clearly wants more of the cargo shipping business that supplies Central Florida with goods.
• Continuing work to turn the port’s entertainment district into a major Central Florida tourism destination.
• Working more closely with the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast to ensure the port ranks as high on that organization’s radar screen as aviation and aerospace currently do.
“The port and the EDC have worked closely to identify such opportunities,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.
“And as John and his team move forward with their ambitious and far-reaching priorities, the EDC is eager to continue that partnership to help companies and the community take advantage of the port’s unique assets for the betterment of all involved.”