A Wealth of Possibilities
By Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton
Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System
Since 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway has provided a link between the world marketplace and the industrial and agricultural heartland of North America. The 2,000-mile long Seaway system is responsible for annual commerce exceeding 200 million net tons. Over 30 million people rely on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system, either recreationally or commercially.
The shipping of foreign goods through Michigan waters translates into $2 billion to the state's economy
Annually, approximately 7 million tons of overseas and Canadian cargo crosses the Port of Detroit docks
Foreign shipping accounts for 20 percent of all maritime activity with the State of Michigan
For more information on the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Public Dock and Terminal, visit www.portdetroit.com.
6 photos, ranked in order of my preference. If room to use all, you could do that; maybe better to use 5 then save one for the table of contents.
“Our waterfront has largely been used industrially, but there are other uses beyond industry. We want to make the waterfront more attractive to people and look to the water as a way of moving people recreationally and for excursions.”
--John Kerr, Economic Development Director, Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority ______________________________________________________________________________________
Before Detroit put the world on wheels, the world—more specifically the French—came to its shores and saw a wealth of possibilities. “The water has played an important role in Detroit since it was founded by a French explorer in 1701 and became a port,” said John Kerr, the economic development director at the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority. More than 300 years after Antoine Cadillac founded the city, people are once again looking at the shores of Detroit.
Forecast: Commerce and Tourism
The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Public Dock and Terminal, a $22-million project, is slated to open in June. Hopes are high the project will bring with it new possibilities for commerce and tourism. “Essentially the project includes new public docking which will facilitate better maritime traffic in and out of Detroit,” Kerr said. “We hope it will draw people to the waterfront and draw visitors from other places to Detroit.”
Economic Development Plans
The Detroit River has always played an important role in the economy of the city, the state and—because it’s a segment of the St. Lawrence Seaway—the country. “There are 2000 trips right past Detroit’s front door, along the river,” Kerr said. “Sure some of those are headed to other ports, but Detroit’s port is very busy. I’m not sure many people realize just how extensively it is used.”
The Dock and Terminal is sitting on some attractive real estate, located between the Renaissance Center and Hart Plaza. “It’s right in the heart of downtown Detroit, within walking distance of Cobo Hall, so there’s great potential there,” Kerr said. The new facility can accommodate many different types of vessels including cruise ships, ferries, water taxis, tall ships, dinner boats, and naval frigates.
Did You Say “Cruise Ships?”
Among the most promising uses is the facility’s ability to handle cruise ships. “Having an international airport, like Detroit Metro, nearby, makes it so much easier to get to a Great Lake Cruise Ship,” said Chris Conlin of the Great Lakes Cruise Company. The Great Lakes Cruise Company, a division of Conlin Travel headquartered in Ann Arbor, brings cruising companies to the Great Lakes and sells cruise trips to travel companies and travelers. “Many people want to cruise the upper Great Lakes, like Lake Superior, and many of those cruises have started in Toronto,” said Conlin, “Having a facility like this in Detroit shaves quite a few hours off the trip and is a real win for the community.”
Our Great Lakes—Others Destination of Choice
Cruise ships also bring in visitors from other states, spending tourism dollars in ports of call along the cruise route.
“The majority of the people come from outside of Michigan and are experienced cruisers,” Conklin said. “We—Michiganders—are around the Great Lakes all the time and tend to take them for granted a little. The Great Lakes are a destination that many people have on their list.” The Great Lakes Cruise Company will begin offering cruises out of The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Public Dock and Terminal in 2012.
“There are two cruise ships scheduled to make calls on Detroit in July, and tall ships will be making a visit,” Kerr said. “The activities are starting to line up and with the new facilities; the port is more attractive for various uses.” One of those unique uses includes ecotourism. In fact, some eco-tours were held as part of a 2008 U.S. EPA Brownfields Conference. Long-term, the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, would like to link the new facility to the International Wildlife Refuge, Belle Isle, and other natural assets along the Detroit River, using tour boats.
Transportation: Water Taxis and Ferries
“Our waterfront has largely been used industrially, but there are other uses beyond industry,” Kerr said. “We want to make the waterfront more attractive to people and look to the water as a way of moving people recreationally and for excursions.” The new dock and terminal could be used for water taxis and ferries, too. Such a use could make public transportation a more viable option in metro Detroit, especially when paired with a rail system.
“With the addition of trains, we have the potential to move around people and cargo much more efficiently,” Kerr said. “Our region has been lacking in that and this project paired with the Michigan Rail project have the potential to make transportation much more effective, which is really important given the direction gas prices have taken.”
Things were already looking up for the region’s rail system—more than $161 million for high speed rail and $40 million for Amtrak stations in Troy, Battle Creek, and Dearborn had been secured—when, in May, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $200 million in additional federal transportation funds for the state.
Shipping Cargo Still Important
While the new Dock and Terminal has potential for many new uses, it will continue to play an important role in Michigan’s shipping industry. According to the Port Authority’s website, ships move more than 80 million tons of cargo annually on the Detroit River. Detroit’s docks are busy too, handling more than 7 million tons of oversea and Canadian cargo. “Shipping is a highly effective way to move cargo,” Kerr said.
The Port Authority was also successful in securing a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to better connect the port to the freight rail system, an effort that will help the cogs of commerce turn even more efficiently. While a lot has changed since the days of Antoine Cadillac—industries have thrived and waned—Detroit’s shores remain a place of possibilities.
Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton is a freelance writer. You may contact her at 810-444-3827.