Port SL Opens Doors to New Riverfront Headquarters

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During a March 1 event, Port of South Louisiana CEO Paul Matthews shows visitors the view from his office on the third floor of the port's new headquarters in Reserve, La. (Photos by Rich Collins)

RESERVE, La. — Port of South Louisiana officials and supporters were all smiles at a March 1 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a stylish new 30,000-square-foot headquarters overlooking the Mississippi river and the dozens of commercial vessels that sail by each day. The three-story structure, which cost nearly $12 million to build, features two stories of offices and meeting rooms atop a ground-floor garage all directly across Jefferson Highway from the levee in the heart of Port SL’s three-parish footprint.

The majority of the building (nearly $10 million) was paid for by the state of Louisiana. The port itself closed the gap. Meyer Engineers, Ltd., based in Mandeville, was the project’s architect and engineer. The general contractor was Guy Hopkins Construction out of Baton Rouge. Work began in 2020 and, since the port’s former office in LaPlace was damaged during Ida, employees have been working from various locations in and around Reserve while the new headquarters was under construction.

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River-inspired artwork adorns a meeting room in PortSL’s new home.

The building sits on the site of the former plantation. A historic home on the property, which is adjacent to the new headquarters, served as PortSL’s temporary digs for a time.

PortSL CEO Paul Matthews said the new building — and an accompanying rebranding campaign — are designed to tell the world, and potential clients in particular, that Port SL is an “an elite player in global shipping markets with economic growth potential for all stakeholders.”

That optimism was on display at the ribbon-cutting event, which felt more like a rowdy wedding reception.

“There’s nothing like new,” said Ryan Burks, PortSL commission chairman, at the event. “I just finished some renovations at my house with my wife so I understand. … The finished product looks so good … and there’s nothing like the teamwork and camaraderie that comes with putting together this type of project.”

State Sen. Gary Smith, who’s from nearby St. Charles Parish, agreed with the sentiment.

“To be the jewel that is the Port of South Louisiana, you really have to have a masterpiece for the office,” he told the crowd. “This office is like a heartbeat. It’s something for the staff to be proud of, something to really showcase when you bring in international clients like we do. We are one of the largest tonnage ports in the Western Hemisphere, but this is something that’s really going to show that — and what a beautiful view, what a beautiful building.”

PortSL claims the title of America’s leading grain exporting port district. Governed by a board of nine commissioners (some appointed by the governor and some by parishes), it stretches 54 miles along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It spans three parishes: St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James.

Earlier this month, the port released a report showing that, in 2022, it saw its first annual net-gain in tonnage since 2017.

The unveiling of the new headquarters brings with it some good press after the controversy that accompanied the port’s announcement that it plans to buy Avondale Global Gateway — a former shipyard that’s been converted into a logistics hub — for $445 million from Virginia-based maritime company T. Parker Host. Critics of the deal say the price is too high and the deal was too secretive. It also raised some turf issues, since Avondale is within the jurisdiction of the Port of New Orleans.

The Jefferson Parish Council and the Jefferson Chamber, among others, have come out in support of the acquisition, which would expand PortSL’s empire into Jefferson Parish. 

Also of note, the port’s state-of-the-art new headquarters is less than five miles upriver from the Denka Performance Elastomer plant that is currently being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to force a reduction in emissions of a chemical compound linked to cancer.

But those concerns were far from top of mind at the March 1 celebration.

“This is just the first step in growth,” said Smith. “And we’ve challenged the commission and the executive director and the legislative delegation: Don’t just rely on what comes to you from the river, but go out and grow and multiply what is here.”

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“It’s a new era at the Port of South Louisiana,” PortSL CEO Paul Matthews told the crowd at a March 1 ribbon-cutting ceremony. “As the nation’s leading grain exporter and the second largest port in the Western Hemisphere, PortSL is home to some of the nation’s most recognizable companies that employ more than 86,000 Louisiana workers.” (Photo courtesy of PortSL)

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