At its peak, Avondale Shipyard employed over 25,000 and built some of the biggest ships in the world. That is why, when Northrop Grumman announced in 2010 that it would close Avondale, it was a big deal: so many careers, so much pride – and over 2,400 vessels – had been built at the 250-acre site on the West Bank of Jefferson, over seven and a half decades.
So eight years ago, elected officials, economic developers and business leaders determined that the closure of Avondale could not be the end of the site. The economic importance was too great, and the site characteristics – with 8,000 feet of deepwater access to the Mississippi – too special to let Avondale slip away.
We all knew repurposing Avondale would be challenging. The shipyard, for all its advantages, also presented special logistical, environmental and financial tests. A new owner would have to see the potential, and be willing to take on the risks. Further, we knew that not just any new owner would do. While we didn’t want to see Avondale with a fence around it, we also didn’t want to see it reincarnated in a way that didn’t produce good jobs for the region.
In this context, the process of meetings, marketing and negotiations began. Avondale proved a big ship to turn around. We came close a few times, but were never able to consummate the deal. Finally, 18 months ago, everything began to come together. A potential new owner with the right experience and vision expressed interest. The Port of New Orleans began working towards a model of the lower Mississippi that could compete with Houston and Savannah. Elected officials and economic developers resolved to work together to drive the solution that maximized the river for everyone.
Thanks to this combination of partnership and perseverance, Avondale has been reborn. The new owners are terminal operator T. Parker Host and investment firm Hilco Redevelopment Partners. They have proven experience, from Tradepoint Atlantic in Baltimore. Moreover, they see the extraordinary potential for Avondale as a location for not only intermodal shipping, but also value-added manufacturing – the Holy Grail of trade-oriented economic development.
The Avondale project in many ways epitomizes the true economic development process: it takes time, it takes teamwork, and it takes the wherewithal to capitalize when opportunity presents itself. Thanks to the Louisiana, GNO and Jefferson team, the Avondale ship has been turned. Now, it is our job to sail it towards success