| MIAMI, April 8
MIAMI, April 8 The port of Miami's total debt is
set to pass $1 billion after Miami-Dade County commissioners
approved a $225 million bond offering on Tuesday to meet
existing lending agreements and pay the balance on a nearly
finished underground tunnel connecting the island-port to nearby
Auditors in March found a potential $1.6 million gap in the
port's future payments toward its mounting debt stemming from an
incentive to lure a new cruise ship into harbor last year,
Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez told commissioners on Tuesday.
He noted ratings agency Moody's said on Friday the seaport's
rating would not be impacted due to healthy reserves and strong
The port has $30 million in reserves, PortMiami Director
Juan Kuryla told commissioners.
PortMiami over the past decade embarked on a more than $2
billion building spree, hoping to make Miami a more attractive
choice for global shippers looking to distribute goods to the
With a deep dredge, larger cranes and upgraded facilities
the port will be able to handle "Post-Panamax" ships that carry
two or three times the load of standard freighters once the
Panama Canal expansion opens in 2016.
Other deep water East Coast ports, including Baltimore,
Norfolk, and New York, are already able to accommodate the
Miami is the only port south of Norfolk, Virginia, with
congressional authorization to dredge to 50 feet (15 meters).
Other cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans are
rushing to get hundreds of millions of dollars of projects
funded and underway in time for the opening.
Moody's last year downgraded PortMiami's rating to A3, four
levels above junk, while Fitch assigned it an 'A' rating, two
levels away from non-investment grade.
While the port has staked its financial future on its
ability to attract larger container ship from Asia, it is also
facing challenges over plans to develop a portion of its land
adjacent to waters too shallow for any maritime use.
Retired English football star David Beckham, recently
awarded a Miami franchise by Major League Soccer, is on a
high-profile campaign to build a 25,000-seat open-air stadium.
The port's recently approved master plan, however, calls for
the development of more than 7 million square feet of
convention, hotel and office space on the same site.
(Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)