Ports & Terminals

Cairo Port Moving Ahead With Revitalization Plans

The Alexander-Cairo Port District, which has only had a full complement of members since 2014 although existing on paper since 2010, is moving ahead with plans for reviving the port of Cairo, Ill., once a storied name in river commerce.

Early this year, the port received a grant of $100,000 from the Rauner Family Foundation, established by the family of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (WJ, February 12).

That money is being used to update a plan for the port that was created several years ago by St. Louis, Mo.-based CDG Engineering (WJ, December 22, 2014). It is being updated to reflect changing market conditions by Ely Consulting Group Ltd., a business consultant firm based in Springfield, Ill.

“In our updated plan, there is more emphasis on moving bulk products and containers, and less on coal,” said Todd Ely, who founded the company in 2000.

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Ely said the prospect of the port’s revival is attracting a lot of attention from prospective tenants and customers. There has been some work toward having the port district join with counties in western Kentucky and southern Missouri to market the region as a single unit, he said.

Cairo’s strategic location at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers made it an important port by the time of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Since the 1960s, economic problems and racial discord led the town into a long slide into poverty and abandonment. The latest census has the population of the town proper at just 2,000. Most downtown buildings are derelict. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development took over the Alexander County Housing Authority in 2016.

Rauner has taken an active interest in reviving Cairo. Ely said that the governor’s proposed budget contains a $1 million line-item for the port. The money would go for additional engineering and permitting.

“We sure hope the Illinois Legislature keeps it in the budget it is developing,” said Ely. “Reviving Cairo is something we hope everyone can agree on. It would not only boost the town itself, but the entire southern Illinois region.”