The rift between groups planning where to move the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market grew wider yesterday.
Some leaders of organized labor who oppose moving the wholesale market to the Navy Yard accused Gov. Rendell and State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) of trying to create a gambling mecca that would kill the seaport. A casino planned for the South Philadelphia waterfront would block port expansion to the north, and the proposed produce terminal would do the same at the southern end.
Backers of the governor's plan, announced in 2005, insisted yesterday that they still intended to go forward. Site preparation at the Navy Yard could begin this spring.
The produce terminal is owned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a city economic development agency. Thirty-five independent businesses rent space in the terminal, and sell fruit, produce and spices to local chefs, merchants, and neighborhood food-buying cooperatives.
After many delays, the city and state are planning to replace the dilapidated regional produce terminal in South Philadelphia, which was built in 1959, with a $150 million facility at the east end of the Navy Yard that would be larger and more secure.
"Sen. Fumo came from the meeting believing that everything is on track. Also, it is important for everyone to understand that, contrary to what others might be suggesting, this project is in no way going to be detrimental to" the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, said Fumo's press secretary, Gary Tuma. "They are involved because of the benefits to the overall port operation."
Sonny DiCrecchio, general manager of the produce terminal, also said he came away convinced that work on the long-awaited facility would now proceed "full steam ahead."
"I looked around the table, into their eyes. There was no hesitation at all. We needed to see that," DiCrecchio said, a reference to years of frustration and delay on the project.
Told of Fumo's statement that the project was on track, Boise Butler III, president of Longshoremen Local 1291, said: "We'll see."
Police were called when half a dozen longshoremen showed up to picket Fumo's South Philadelphia legislative office. Inside, Fumo and representatives of Gov. Rendell and the city were assuring produce-market officials that plans to build a new terminal at the Navy Yard were going forward.
Butler said calling police when his members were picketing was an effort to intimidate them. "We were peaceful and respectful," he said. "Our plan is to protect the industry that employs our members. Their plan is to kill the industry. We're going to prove that our plan is better than their plan."
James T. McDermott, executive director of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, attended the meeting. He could not be reached for comment afterward, but his public affairs director, William B. McLaughlin III, said the new produce terminal would not inhibit port growth.
He said funds for the produce terminal were part of a bond issue that could provide an unprecedented amount of money for port improvements. He also praised Rendell's "heroic position on the channel-deepening project" which is essential to port growth.
State Rep. William F. Keller (D., Phila.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Delaware River Maritime Enterprise Council, said he was outraged at the port authority's support of the project. "I'm going to start calling them the anti-port authority," he said. "It's time for a shake-up at the DRPA."
John J. Dougherty, business manager of Electricians Local 98, met with longshoremen and others late yesterday to plan opposition to further constraints on growth of a port that has already given up space for several big retail centers and a planned casino site.