New Orleans’ Public Belt Railroad is looking to get a handle on exactly how much its assets and business are worth.
While the idea of getting a solid figure for the value of the city-owned line dates back more than a year, the request for proposals seeking a contractor to carry out the project leaves the door open to a possible sale of the railroad.
The railroad’s board first discussed figuring out the value of its assets in December 2013, but it needed to get a better handle on exactly what it owns before it could move forward with hiring someone to put a dollar amount on them, board President Pro-Tem David Schulingkamp said.
That would have been a year before Thomas Coleman, the former CEO of International Matex Tank Terminals, publicly announced his interest in buying the Public Belt. Coleman’s daughter is Dathel Georges, who owns The New Orleans Advocate along with her husband, John Georges.
“This (request for proposals) has nothing to do with, and is not related to, anyone’s recent or older interest in buying the Public Belt Railroad,” Schulingkamp said Thursday, stressing that the decision to appraise the line’s properties came “long before anyone was interested in buying it.”
But a sale or other “alternative business structure,” such as a long-term lease or public-private partnership, could follow the evaluation, according to the request for proposals. That solicitation outlines a second phase of the contractors’ work that could involve assisting in the process of finding buyers and providing assistance in evaluating proposals that were received.
Putting a value on the assets of the Public Belt, which was established more than a century ago to consolidate the lines that serve the Port of New Orleans under one umbrella, could be a tricky process, given how varied and in some cases unique they are. In addition to more than 120 miles of track, the railroad owns the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi River, multiple pieces of real estate and two historic rail cars built in the 1920s and restored in recent years.
The board first considered the idea of selling the railroad more than four years ago, when it was considering how to recover from media reports about lavish spending by former General Manager Jim Bridger and other issues with the management of the railroad. An interim board appointed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu shot down the idea at the time.
The current board unanimously reaffirmed that decision when first informed of Coleman’s interest late last year, and Schulingkamp said earlier this year that it would “take something monumental” to make the board change its mind.
In discussing what the valuation might mean for the future of the railroad, Schulingkamp referred to a letter he and Landrieu, who by law serves as the board’s president, sent to Coleman, saying that a sale of the Public Belt would be considered only if it was “in the best interest” of the city.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.