CLEVELAND — A decade ago, Frank Jackson, then-City Council president, and Charles “Arnie” de la Porte crossed paths for the first time.
The Netherlands native, who had come to call Grafton home, had one message for the future Cleveland mayor: Get a Cleveland-to-Europe freighter going out of the Port of Cleveland.
“He was persistent about it at times and about how we needed to connect Cleveland to the Netherlands commercially,” Jackson said Tuesday.
In the years after that meeting, de la Porte, who died in November while vacationing in Maine with his wife of 54 years, Maud, remained an impassioned and steadfast champion of international trade via the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway.
Had the businessman, husband, father and honorary consul for the Netherlands to Ohio been alive today, he would have called the recent arrival of a Dutch ship to the Port of Cleveland one of the best things ever to happen to the region.
To honor de la Porte’s dedication to commerce, the Port of Cleveland posthumously honored him Tuesday by renaming Erieside Avenue, the main thoroughfare that runs east to west from the port’s gate to the water’s edge, Arnie de la Porte Way.
A replica of the street sign was handed to his son, Pete de la Porte, at an event in Cleveland. The leader of LifeCare, an ambulance company he runs with his brother, Herb de la Porte, could only say the one thing on the mind of everyone who knew the Dutch patriarch.
“I wish my father was here,” he said. “He would have been so excited.”
By welcoming the first vessel to Cleveland from Antwerp, Belgium, the Cleveland-Europe Express received its inaugural vessel in what will be the only regularly scheduled international cargo service on the Great Lakes.
The Fortunagracht, docked a stone’s throw from FirstEnergy Stadium, will drop off goods to the port as well as pick up freight. Among the items headed for a return trip to Europe: A yellow school bus bound for Germany, a shipment of Great Lakes Brewery beer set for a trade show in Europe and specialized mulch for orchids.
“The port connects Cleveland to the rest of the world,” said Marc Krantz, chairman of the Port of Cleveland Board of Directors. “The Cleveland-Europe Express expands the region’s global reach. All of us will benefit.”
It is estimated the service will carry 250,000 to 400,000 tons of cargo per year.
“When we started working toward this, we didn’t expect to book freight from manufacturers from Iowa to California,” he said. “And, we certainly didn’t expect to be talking about adding a second ship in mid-summer 2014 like we are now.”
But Arnie de la Porte envisioned it. In 2010, when he was pushing for the trade agreement, he articulated its importance with one undeniable fact: Investments in the U.S. from the Netherlands are the third-largest, behind Great Britain and Japan.
“He recognized the great potential of the Great Lakes early on,” said Klaas van der Tempel, consul general for the Netherlands. “Arnie recognized how it could transform international trade between this region and the Netherlands. He did everything he could to keep this idea alive both in Cleveland and in the Netherlands.”
The potential to manufacturers is endless. A landscaping company from Middleburg Heights once used the Port of Virginia to ship mulch to Europe, said Will Friedman, president and CEO of the Port of Cleveland. It would sit on the dock for days before boarding a train for Cleveland. Now, it will leave on a boat just a short distance from the factory.
“This express service will give manufacturers access to a faster, more reliable, more sustainable and competitively priced way to move goods and materials,” Friedman said. “This new trade gateway on the docks in Cleveland is especially geared toward large, heavy pieces that are too costly to move along the roads and air.”