By Alex Binkley

The Niagara Ports Plan developed by Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA) and a land leasing proposal on the Welland Canal offered by The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) could mark big changes in the way the waterway is used.

HOPA has combined properties in the Thorold area that it intends to develop into a new, 200-acre multimodal facility. The Thorold Multimodal Hub is intended to be the opening development in its Niagara Ports plan, jointly developed by HOPA and local Niagara civic leaders, to create a corridor of multimodal industrial hubs along the Canal. The hubs are intended to attract industry to the region, reduce costs for shippers and develop the Niagara trade corridor, with HOPA contributing its expertise in developing marine-industrial lands.

SLSMC has opened tenders for a long-term lease for all or a portion of the Wharf 5 & 6 facility on the Canal, also at Thorold, and engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to manage the offers for the facility. Proposals are due March 31 for one or all of the six parcels of land on the site, which offers excellent access to major markets, as it is connected to major highways and is located about 70 miles from Toronto and 20 miles from Niagara Falls and the U.S. border. The facility has one commercial dock that can accommodate full Seaway-size vessels. SLSMC said it will select one or more parties to operate the facility under a long-term lease. Its aim “is for this property to be used to promote cargo volume growth and commodity diversification in the Great Lakes.”

HOPA’s Thorold Hub is comprised of a former paper mill site and the McCleary complex, and offers outdoor storage and access to the Canal as well as a CN rail line and highways. It is 30 minutes from the U.S. border and has more than 500,000 square feet of indoor warehouse space, bay doors, truck docking, heavy cranes, rail-to truck cross-docking and extensive outdoor storage space including tracks for railcar storage.

HOPA says the facility can accommodate multiple users and can be configured to suit a wide variety of industrial cargo handling operations. Spaces are available from 2,000 square feet to 50 plus acres and could be used for manufacturing, warehousing, rail transload and vessel load and unload. The Hub is the first in what HOPA and its partners hope will become a corridor of multimodal industrial hubs along the Canal. One of the Hub’s first tenants is Tora Inc. a St. Catharines-based company offering warehousing, sorting, assembly and other services for domestic and international manufacturers. The company will occupy 60,000 square feet of warehouse space.

Other hubs in Port Colborne and Welland are currently in conceptual stages. “The model creates a cluster that doesn’t rely on HOPA or any other single party to purchase or control all of the industrial assets. Rather it is a strategy to align partners in the region around common objectives of increasing investment, trade and employment. Through supportive zoning and economic development promotion, local civic and business communities have been working together to ensure Niagara’s industrial lands are positioned for industry and employment.

Successful development of hubs along the Canal would increase Seaway traffic, attract industry and investment to Niagara, reduce traffic congestion on Ontario highways, diversify and expand trade capacity for the Ontario economy, lower transportation costs for shippers and improve the carbon profile of Ontario’s goods movement transportation network.

HOPA and Brock University signed an MOU last month to create a partnership to boost the economy of the Niagara region. They will work together to provide experiential learning opportunities, including co-op placements, and to pursue research collaborations that support marine and industry needs.