Coalition rejects Distribution Center move to Navy Yard

Gov. Rendell wants to relocate the Food Distribution Center into the Navy Yard to save more than a thousand jobs, but a coalition of longshoremen and maritime businesses contend the move would strangle the port and cost thousands of port jobs in the future.

After hearing their passionate plea to rethink the plan in a special meeting yesterday, the chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority said the deal to move the food center from Packer Avenue near 3rd Street to the Navy Yard is not done.

Chairman Brian Preski said he plans to sit down with the coalition and try to work out a compromise. But the Port Authority confronts a Rubik's cube of tough choices involving competing interests.

For example, the coalition suggested that the Food Distribution Center could relocate to the Pier 98 annex, just north of the Walt Whitman Bridge and west of Columbus Boulevard.

But Preski said the authority is in discussion with Sysco Food Services, which is being lured by New Jersey, to stay in Philadelphia and move to the 50-acre annex tract and roughly double its workforce.

Rendell's plan is to move the Food Distribution Center to a tract on the eastern end of the Navy Yard, a move that would also take a small piece of Port Authority land that is part of its future "southport" development.

Aside from the loss of port land, the coalition noted that Rendell's location for the food center would require an elevated roadway across the railyard where three railroads now converge.

Aside from security worries about an elevated road, the coalition argued that the road would separate the southport area from the railyard and strangle future port growth.

Preski said the controversial road could be redirected through the nearby Mustin Field away from the rail link and out to Interstate 95. But he noted that the city is aiming to attract biotech companies in that area and that heavy truck traffic from the food center could be a problem.

Meanwhile, Preski said that as soon as he gains Rendell's approval, he will ask the Port Authority board to agree to a bond issue of between $330 million and $400 million, including $246 million for direct waterfront investments such as the rehabilitation of five piers, new gantry cranes, warehouses and a bulk terminal on the Schuylkill River.

In that bond issue will be about $100 million for the relocation of the Food Distribution Center and related improvements. *