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Port authority moving riverside

New $2 million HQ seen as sign of good things on horizon

By Jack Weatherly

This article was published July 27, 2014 at 2:28 a.m.

bryan-day-new-executive-director-of-the-little-rock-port-authority-stands-outside-his-office-at-the-nearly-completed-headquarters-for-the-port-authority-along-the-arkansas-river

Bryan Day, new executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority, stands outside his office at the nearly completed headquarters for the port authority along the Arkansas River

A map showing the location of the Little Rock port center.

The Little Rock Port Authority soon will be headquartered on the Arkansas River.

That might not seem noteworthy, but the fact is the authority has long operated out of a building it shares with a fire station nearly 2 miles from the river.

It will move into the Arkansas River Resource Center, a 5,000-square-foot building on the south bank. Its design subtly suggests a riverboat, with an open-air "prow" pointing toward the waterway and the main conference room mimicking a pilot house.

The authority also has a new pilot, if you will.

Bryan Day became the executive director on June 23, a week after the retirement of Paul Latture, who held the position for 15 years.

Day said his previous job was more of a case of reacting to needs, rather than looking to the future as he will as port director.

He said he feels that emblematic of the future is the new $2 million headquarters designed by Bunny Brown of Jackson Brown Palculict Architects of Little Rock.

"It's a very smart, a very right decision," Day said.

While the Port Authority does not operate on public money, it will receive proceeds from a sales tax that will provide $10 million for land acquisition. The tax also will provide $22 million for the establishment of the Little Rock Technology Park in downtown.

The Port Authority board will be looking next year to buy 1,500 to 1,800 acres of land, said Day, who left his job as assistant manager for the city, a position he held for nine years. The port will pay him $150,000, compared with $137,650 in his city position.

Day praised his predecessor.

"It's not a broken organization," Day said. "Paul and the board did a good job," bringing the port and industrial park along from its spartan status.

Latture said that when he took the helm "the first couple of years were very lean."

"We had a harbor and a road. We didn't even have docks," he said.

The port was created in 1959 by the state Legislature and was opened in 1971 as the 445-mile McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System opened. Its system of locks and dams runs from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to the Mississippi River.

In Latture's tenure, a 17-mile rail loop was added. The slack-water harbor now has docks, and other roads were built.

The budget bottom line for the port -- which is owned by the city -- in the beginning of his tenure was $300,000 a year. Now it's $3 million, according to Latture.

The port handled 240,857 tons of commodities in 2000, reached 733,985 tons in 2010 and moved 676,095 tons last year, according to its records.

The port's 2,640-acre park has about 40 industries that employ 4,000 workers.

"We've added about $500 million in new investment," Latture said.

Its two biggest successes in recent years are Welspun Tubular LLC and LM Wind Power, the former making pipe for oil and natural-gas, and the latter producing giant blades for windmills.

Two recent orders will revive jobs for about 100 workers to make the Welspun payroll reach about 650, said David Delie, president and chief executive of the company.

LM Wind Power currently employs more than 300.

Other major employers include Sage V Foods, Delta Plastics and Ring Container Technologies. Others, such as Schueck Steel and Skippy peanut butter, have expanded, Latture noted.

The port industrial park has outgrown itself. It has only about 175 acres that it could sell, which would not accommodate a Welspun-size industry -- which consists of 820 acres on two sites -- though it could accommodate another LM Wind Power facility of 135 acres.

The port authority pays for itself by operating a 17-mile railroad, and loading and unloading barges as well as leasing land.

Transporting Welspun pipe via port authority rail to mainline railroads will soon get a boost from Welspun's contracts for two projects in Texas, according to Delie.

Production will start Monday on orders for about 14,000 tons of the large-diameter pipe for a project in Bellevue, Texas, and about 50,000 tons for a project in Glidden, Texas, Delie said.

Welspun produced about half of the 1,600 miles of pipe for TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone Pipeline XL. Three hundred and 50 miles of it is still sitting on the Welspun lot, he said.

But the White House and Republicans in Congress are still at odds over approval of the project that will carry tar sands oil from western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

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