Two years after it was put up for sale, the former Avondale shipyard has found a buyer, but few details have been released about the idle West Bank facility's future.
Huntington Ingalls Industries executives disclosed the development Aug. 3 in an earnings call with analysts. The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, where the defense giant is based, first reported the news Tuesday.
"We signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the sale of the property," Chris Kastner, Huntington Ingalls' chief financial officer, told analysts, according to the report. "While this is a positive step toward an eventual sale, a comprehensive due diligence process will now be initiated before the potential buyer is obligated to close."
Beci Brenton, a Huntington Ingalls spokeswoman, confirmed the agreement Wednesday but declined further comment.
State and local officials lauded the news but also were tight-lipped about the prospective owner's identity or plans for the site.
“Our goal is to return as much employment as possible to the former shipyard, and to build as much new economic activity as we can for Jefferson Parish and surrounding areas," Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson said Wednesday. He declined to comment on "current or potential prospects" for the property, citing agency policy.
In recent months, speculation among some business leaders and economic development officials about the possibility of finding a new use for Avondale began to pick up, particularly as the Port of New Orleans went through a master planning process to lay out a blueprint for the port's growth over the next decade.
Among the ideas tossed around for Avondale was whether building a break-bulk dock at the site would be feasible, or whether it could become a logistics and manufacturing hub populated by shippers, manufacturers, terminal operators and other users.
Whether the port is involved in the new deal is unclear. "We have worked closely with both Huntington Ingalls and potential buyers on partnership opportunities and are pleased by (the) announcement that a purchase agreement has been signed," port spokesman Donnell Jackson said.
After the port recently wrapped up negotiations with New Orleans officials to acquire the city-owned Public Belt Railroad — which includes 26 miles of track connecting six major rail lines serving the port and industrial facilities — some observers had wondered whether Avondale would be next.
In recent months, Huntington Ingalls dropped the asking price for the Avondale property to $95 million from $125 million, Jerry Bologna, president and CEO of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, said.
The facility consists of 206 acres that include more than 7,900 feet of riverfront access. It also provides users deepwater access. The facility had been developed incrementally since 1938.
In late 2011, Northrop Grumman Corp. announced plans to shutter Avondale — once Louisiana's largest private employer — and consolidate its shipbuilding operations in Mississippi. The company subsequently spun off its shipbuilding business into Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The Avondale facility once employed thousands of workers, but the number began falling sharply in 2013 as work wrapped up on the last Navy warship built from the keel up.
Not long afterward, Huntington Ingalls began working with Kinder Morgan, one of the country’s largest pipeline and terminal operators, to transition the sprawling facility into a commercial manufacturer for the once-booming oil and gas industry.
But those plans fizzled. In August 2015, the facility was put up for sale, being marketed by Colliers International Group Inc., a commercial real estate services firm.