Terminal 25, which helped usher in the modern era of cargo containers and international trade when it opened in the early 1970s, is getting a new lease on life. The Port of Seattle...

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Terminal 25, which helped usher in the modern era of cargo containers and international trade when it opened in the early 1970s, is getting a new lease on life.

The Port of Seattle Commission approved a lease of up to 30 years with one of the world’s largest terminal operators to reopen the aging dockyard in July.

The move will help the Port deal with a surge of cargo energizing the city’s industrial waterfront.

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Seattle’s SSA Marine plans to move the domestic shipping line Matson to the dockyard to free up space at Terminal 18 on Harbor Island.

The company said it needs the room after struggling to deal with 50 percent more business this fall.

The Port will spend an estimated $15 million to $20 million to add cargo cranes, strengthen dock pilings and fenders, repair pavement and install new lights. Much of that will be paid for with the Port’s share of the King County property tax.

Moving Matson to Terminal 25 is expected to create about 284 jobs, Port officials said.

The decision to reopen Terminal 25 highlights just how fast Seattle’s fortunes as a cargo port have changed.

SSA moved Matson to Terminal 18 two years ago to consolidate operations and save money.

At the time, Terminal 25, with its small, diesel-powered cranes and relatively shallow waterway, was considered obsolete and closed to cargo. Instead, The Port poured money into upgrading and expanding three main cargo terminals on the south end of Elliott Bay.

This year, those three terminals handled a record number of cargo containers, thanks to an explosion of imports from Asia and unexpected congestion at Southern California ports, which handle nearly two-thirds of West Coast cargo.

Slowdowns at ports in Los Angles and Long Beach forced shipping lines to move more business north, which helped break a decade of nearly flat growth in Seattle.

“Everyone is hedging their bets on Southern California,” Jon Hemingway, SSA’s chief executive, told Port commissioners yesterday.

Because of the cost of restoring the terminal, the Port doesn’t expect to make much money from the lease for at least 15 years. It will charge SSA the same per-acre rent for the main part of the dockyard as it does for all the major cargo terminals.

The commission also approved spending $42.7 million to upgrade parts of Terminal 18 to install cranes large enough to work a new generation of cargo ships so large that they can’t fit through the Panama Canal.

Matson, which ships cars and cargo primarily to Hawaii and Alaska, uses smaller ships than the international lines calling on Terminal 18.

When Terminal 25 opened more than 30 years ago, it was one of the first dockyards on the West Coast able to handle cargo containers, an idea that revolutionized how goods were transported across oceans and land.

J. Martin McOmber: 206-464-2022 or mmcomber@seattletimes.com