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It may have taken longer than expected, but the Jefferson County Port Authority is now in its new home in Crystal City.

Executive Director Neal Breitweiser said renovation work on the 2,000-square-foot office at 114 Mississippi Ave. recently was finished, and he was able to move in on Aug. 12 – a year and a month from the date that the authority’s Board of Directors approved the purchase of the property.

“It’s been a long time, but this is good,” Breitweiser said. “The reason it took longer than expected (the original prediction was that the office would be open at the start of the year) is that we wanted to make sure that things were done right, and that they would be done cost-effectively as well. If we didn’t get a bid in (for a new heating-air conditioning-ventilation system or electric rewiring, for instance) that we liked, we waited until we found one that was better. Because this was a relatively small job, sometimes it’s tough to find contractors.”

He said the building, which the Port Authority bought from attorney Kevin Schaaf for $48,000, needed some work.

“It wasn’t a rehab by any means,” he said. “More of a brightening.”

The general contractor was Cliff Lane’s Lane Consolidated Services Co. of De Soto.

“Cliff really did a great job,” Breitweiser said. “He was enthusiastic about doing a good job, which we appreciate.”

The Port Authority’s board last year approved a $75,000 loan to finance the cost of the building, closing costs and other incidental expenses, plus improvements to the building.

Breitweiser said the work was completed within budget.

“We had a lot of help with that,” he said. “All of our board members came in to volunteer their help throughout the process with whatever we needed. Also, Dave Crump (president of Jefferson County Habitat for Humanity, which operates a ReStore that sells donations of home improvement items) was always on the lookout for furniture for us. All of the furniture came from Habitat at a fraction of what we would have paid for it new.”

The authority needed furniture because it has never before had its own office. Board member Alex Schwent donated the photos of local scenes that adorn the new office’s conference room, where the authority’s board meets.

Breitweiser said while there was much work to be done to prepare the office, only one wall had to be torn down to make a room large enough for meeting space.

The classic woodgrain paneling was painted over with white paint.

“That really lightened it up in here,” he said.

From the time it was formed in 1976 until late 2016, the Port Authority was part of the Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation and shared staff with that agency, as well as its office on Hwy. B west of Hillsboro.

But the Port Authority’s board voted to separate and form a separate entity and since then, Breitweiser had been working out of a small office at the Jefferson County Administration Center in Hillsboro.

The back third of the new office in Crystal City was not renovated, he said. A tenant will be sought to occupy that space, with the lease payments going to help pay off the loan.

“We will renovate to suit our tenant’s needs,” Breitweiser said.

In addition to the conference room, the new office has a space for a yet-to-be-hired administrative assistant who will oversee the reception area and Breitweiser’s office.

“Once we’re all settled in, we’ll have an open house and allow the public to come in and learn all about the office and what we do.”

Kimmswick port next

The big project for the Port Authority in the coming year will be the completion of a docking facility in Kimmswick to accommodate the Delta Queen steamboat and other excursion vehicles going up and down the Mississippi.

The Missouri General Assembly approved spending $600 million in this year’s budget for port activities, with more than $9.4 million to be divided among the state’s 15 port authorities for capital improvement projects on a competitive basis.

Derrick Good, president of the Jefferson County Port Authority’s board, said the different entities’ proposed projects are graded and prioritized for funding by the Missouri Port Authorities Association, a group that works with the Missouri Department of Transportation and the individual port authorities.

The lone project approved for Jefferson County this year is the completion of the Kimmswick port. The state will put in $857,000 for the project, with a local match – much of it coming from the Jefferson County budget but about $83,000 coming from donations of labor.

Good said the project actually was approved to be completed during the last state budget year, which ended on June 30, but the prolonged flooding along the Mississippi River prevented work from being done.

“Because of the high water and other factors, we couldn’t get the project done this year, so once we determined that, we notified the Port Authorities Association so they could give the money to the next project down the line. The money doesn’t carry over from year to year, but if we turned it back, we could keep our place in (the priority line) for the next year.”

Breitweiser said 10 companies placed bids for the project, but the lowest was for $2.2 million, much higher than the budgeted amount, so the Port Authority’s board rejected them all at its Sept. 11 meeting.

Breitweiser said the board will discuss whether to seek new bids for the project, in hopes that the bids will be lower, or revise the plans.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board and talk about what we need to do,” he said.

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