With longshoremen cheering and waving thank-you signs, Gov. Rendell declared yesterday that the bistate agreement to deepen the Delaware River clears the way for $300 million in public investment for the city's seaport.

With larger ships able to come upriver, the port has an opportunity to grow if it has improved and expanded facilities, Rendell said.

Dredging the ship channel from the current 40 feet to 45 feet and the planned new facilities will attract private investment.

"Each dollar of the state investment will leverage significant private investment in our ports," Rendell said, standing in front of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority headquarters across from the Tioga Marine Terminal.

In response to questions afterward, Rendell pledged that the state would invite major maritime enterprises nationwide to compete for the right to extend the port southward into the Navy Yard. He promised that it would be an open process and that the best proposal would win.

State Rep. William F. Keller (D., Phila.), who had long championed dredging and an open process to seek private port investment, praised Rendell and Gov. Corzine of New Jersey for supporting port expansion.

"I believe that when all is said and done, they will look back on this day as the day when they created more jobs than any governor of any state," Keller said before the announcement.

The $300 million port bond issue will finance a slew of port improvements - something for every major maritime interest on the waterfront. And it could fund relocating the Camden Iron & Metal scrap-metal terminal from Camden, directly across from Philadelphia's Penn's Landing park, to Girard Point in South Philadelphia.

Expanding the port, Rendell said, would generate jobs.

"America must preserve the opportunity for men and women who are willing to work their tails off - but didn't have an opportunity to go to college - to earn seventy, eighty or ninety thousand dollars," he said.

Brian Preski, chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority and a lawyer with Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen L.L.P., said that the bond issue was still being planned and that cost estimates were not available for each project.

The planned improvements include:

Two additional gantry cranes and a refrigerated warehouse for the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, operated by business interests controlled by the Thomas J. Holt Sr. family.

Upgraded piers and a new warehouse for the forest-products-importing facilities operated by the Jack Brown family.

A 100,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse for fruit imports at Tioga Marine Terminal, operated by Delaware River Stevedores Inc., which is jointly owned by SSA Marine Inc., of Seattle, and AIG Global Investment Group, of New York.

A 100,000-square-foot warehouse for Harvey A. Weiner's Dependable Distribution Services cocoa-bean-importing facility at Pier 84.

The terminals set for improvement are owned by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, a state agency, and leased to private operators. Lease payments would offset part of debt payments, Rendell said.

The port bond issue also includes $180 million for a new Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, to replace the terminal built in 1959 that it leases from the city's Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

Contact staff writer Henry J. Holcomb at 215-854-2614 or hholcomb@phillynews.com.