Editor’s Note: The following article is a much longer piece than that which ran in the April 2 print and digital editions of The Packer.

(April 2, EXPANDED COVERAGE) Five years later, construction of the new Philadelphia Regional Produce Market is still on hold.

“The groundbreaking will be in the near future,” said Jimmy Storey, president of the terminal association and owner of Quaker City Produce Co. “We have some political issues we have to overcome.”

Market leaders began discussing the possibility of replacing the 48-year-old market with the city in 2002 because of the need to meet increasing demands related to food safety and security. By 2004, the market association was pondering a move across the Delaware River to Camden, N.J., but in September 2005, Gov. Edward Rendell and Sen. Vincent Fumo announced that a new market would be built on the site of a closed naval base.

However, maritime interests in Philadelphia now are opposing that project.

“We want a produce market to be built because we don’t want to lose any work in the city,” said Boise Butler, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291. “What we don’t want is for the produce market to be built on the last possible expansion of land for the port.”

Butler said the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority is growing and needs to expand south of the Walt Whitman Bridge to the Navy Yard because post-Panamax container vessels can’t fit under the bridge to call on the port. Butler said that the number of large ships in use is increasing and that if the port doesn’t expand south it will lose business to other East Coast ports.

The port employs about 8,000 workers directly and creates another 45,000 ancillary jobs, Butler said. The union estimates that if the port expands to the Navy Yard and the river is dredged to allow larger ships, the port could grow during the next decade to provide a total of 175,000 jobs. The number of containers passing through the port would jump from 700,000 a year to an estimated 3.5 million, he said.

Martin Mascuilli, secretary/treasurer of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291, said that the wages, taxes, tariffs and revenues generated by an expanded port would be “10 times what a produce center could generate.” He also said funding for new facilities would come from the private sector, not city, state or federal funds.

TWO-YEAR DELAY?

Market manager Sonny DiCrecchio, who couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, has estimated that a new produce market will cost $280 million. Market stakeholders are responsible for $100 million, which will be secured by state bond and paid back through rent during the course of 30-year leases. The state will put up another $180 million. An adjoining 100,000-square-foot seafood center will cost an additional $20 million, making it a $300-million project by DiCrecchio’s estimation.

Butler estimated that less than 1% of cargo coming through the port is fruits and vegetables.

“Why is it necessary to build the produce center right on the river?” he said.

DiCrecchio recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the market has spent $1.6 million on engineering studies at the Navy Yard site and that switching to another location would delay construction by two years.

DiCrecchio told The Packer last August that prep work on the site was expected to begin by the end of September or early October 2006 with the demolition of old housing on the site. He also said he hoped to see concrete poured by March or April, but as of March 28 the housing was still standing.

“We’re still moving,” Storey said. “The governor and the senator have assured us we’re still moving to the Navy Yard.”

EAGLE NESTS

The local longshoremen’s union isn’t the only obstacle. Protected bald eagles are nesting on the site.

Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it likely will remove the birds from the threatened and endangered species list, a final decision could come as late as June 29, the agency said on its Web site. Even if the species is delisted, the birds, their nests and eggs still will be protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the agency said.

“We have to have a new market,” said Al Finer, president of Al Finer Co., which has been on the produce market since 1965. “There have been enough delays. The market here is just falling apart. It’s actually dangerous because it’s decrepit.”

‘Political issues’ cited in delay of Philly market
Sonny DiCrecchio, manager of the Philadelphia Fresh Food Terminal, says the market has invested $1.6 million in engineering studies in preparation for moving the market to the Navy Yard. Changing the location would put off construction by two years, he says.