Port of Oakland anticipates opportunities, faces challenges

OAKLAND — The Port of Oakland, which describes itself as “everyone’s port,” begins 2020 with plenty of opportunities for all of its lines of business — and more than a few challenges, the commercial hub’s top boss said Wednesday.

Executives with the Oakland seaport and Oakland airport are able to point to major successes in 2019 and optimism about 2020 — yet both of these East Bay transportation and logistics hubs must grapple with some setbacks as a new year starts to unfold.

“We are everyone’s port,” Danny Wan, executive director of the Port of Oakland, said remarks prepared for the annual State of the Port presentation in Oakland on Wednesday. “We generate 84,000 jobs for our communities and beyond.”

The Port of Oakland operates the Oakland seaport, Oakland International Airport, and iconic mixed-use dining and entertainment destination Jack London Square. All three are deemed to have plenty of upside, along with challenges to overcome.

Overall container volume at the Oakland seaport totaled 2.5 million during 2019, which was down 1.8 percent from the 2.55 million tons the port handled during 2018, as measured by 20-foot containers.

Yet this decline was due to a significant drop of 13 percent in empty containers handled by the seaport. The container volume statistics measure both full and empty containers. In 2019, the seaport handled 1.9 million loaded containers, which was up 1 percent from the 1.86 million in loaded containers during 2018.

The Oakland airport also has been lifted by big-time events such as the first Southwest Airlines flights between the East Bay air travel hub and the Hawaiian islands.

Yet at the same time, overall passenger volume has slumped at the Oakland airport. Over the 12 months that ended in November, the airport handled 13.32 million passengers, down nearly 2 percent from the 13.59 million air passengers that flew into or out of Oakland.

Port officials also see plenty of potential for Jack London Square. Development plans are underway and restaurants such as Lungomare, The Forge, and Scott’s Seafood regularly capture a brisk business.

“Jack London Square is Oakland’s gateway to the Bay where you go for gourmet food, a jazz concert show or a movie,” Wan said during his presentation.

During 2020 and the years after that, the port must improve its operating platforms as well as its economic ecosystem, Wan said.

“The Port is a real-world platform that invites tenants, operators, and workers to develop and carry out their own programs and operations,” Wan said.

This means that the port, airport, and Jack London Square must become the platforms of choice for the users of those facilities.

“The Port needs to be nimble and versatile,” Wan said. “The infrastructure of the Port, or the ‘operating system,’ needs to be frequently refreshed and upgraded.”

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