The Holt family has a history of confrontations and failures that would bend or break most dynasties. Today, though, it flourishes economically as the Holt Logistics Corp.
Tom, Sr. can sit back with great satisfaction, since his corporationsâ€™ flags fly over Philadelphiaâ€™s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, the Port of Philadelphiaâ€™s largest, and Gloucester Terminals LLC, just south of Camden, which the Holt Logistics Corp. labels as having â€œthe largest refrigerated capacity of any terminal in the United States.â€
Its history at Packer Terminal has been checkered, but protected by a 50-year operatorâ€™s contract, the length of which is unheard in all the histories of all the ports in the entire world. Itâ€™s a contract that remains unbroken, despite the familyâ€™s habit of flipping management to new operating entities whenever an old one runs onto a financial reef.
For example, in 2002, Greenwich Terminals LLC had taken over responsibility for stevedoring and terminal operations at the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal from Holt Cargo Systems, which had gone into bankruptcy.
Who or what is Greenwich? Quoting its website, â€œThough Greenwich Terminals is reportedly controlled by the Holt family, it is not involved in the groupâ€™s bankruptcy proceedings.â€ The name change did nothing but insure the Holt family would continue its domination over the huge terminal, the most lucrative asset of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, the government entity which oversees the Cityâ€™s and Stateâ€™s holdings in the Port.
The Holts didnâ€™t miss a moment as Greenwich Terminals and as Astro Holdings Inc. assumed control as the leasehold tenant of the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal operation. Though they had gone into bankruptcy with one of their corporations, they remained as stewards of the terminal under the umbrella of another corporation.
The Holtsâ€™ image among Port stakeholders is, â€œbrook no competitionâ€. Their goal to dominate the Port has not diminished, no matter how many bankruptcies theyâ€™ve suffered. Recently, the Holts were able to exact some revenge for having lost their 2006 battle to take over Tioga Terminal from Delaware River Stevedores.
They had hoped their long-time patron, Gov. Ed Rendell, would pressure PRPA to approve a Holt bid to wrest Tioga Terminal from DRS, a firm with a long history at the Port, and headed by Robert Palaima, with an equally long history of working Port facilities.
Unlike the Holtsâ€™ contract at Packer Terminal, which reportedly covers 50 years, the Tioga Terminal contract was up for a revisit.
When Leo Holt inadvertently tossed off a comment to a business colleague overseas, to the effect â€œGov. Ed Rendell has promisedâ€ his family Tioga Terminal when its contract with DRS came up for renewal, a Port alarm was sounded.
Joining and pushing for the retention of DRS were President Boise Butler, of International Longshoremenâ€™s Association Local 1291, the largest union in the Port, which knew under Palaimaâ€™s tenure Tioga Terminal would remain a totally union operation, and Ricardo Claro, president of CSAV, which controls the shipment of millions of tons of Chilean produce into this country.
Claro wrote Rendell in March of 2006, â€œFor almost four decades, Pennsylvania and Chile have enjoyed an extraordinarily productive association. The hundreds of millions of tons of cargo we have transported to the Port of Philadelphia represent thousands of jobs and make an enormous economic impact.
â€œIt brings me no joy to say if this contemplated change occurs, we will absolutely depart with regret from the Port of Philadelphia.â€
CSAV said it would move its ships to Wilmington. Butler advised the Governor a meltdown in union cooperation would occur all around the Port. Shippers would be unhappy.
Despite the many chits the Holts had accumulated from their long-time financial support to the many campaigns of the Governor, dating back to his days as District Attorney, he pragmatically allowed DRS to renew its contract. It was a slap-down.
Questions continue to be asked about the Holt family and its history with the Port of Philadelphia, the first being, â€œWhy so long a contract on Packer Terminal?â€
The second question is: â€œWhy are the terms so cheap?â€