He didn't get down on one knee, but Christopher Lee wooed his wife with a skyscraping crane she literally could call her own at the dedication of the port of Baltimore's berth capable of handling the world's largest cargo ships.
As founder of Highstar Capital, the Ruxton resident provided the financial backing for a $105 million expansion at Seagirt Marine Terminal to make Baltimore one of only two East Coast ports — the other is Norfolk, Va. — ready to handle the larger ships that could pass through the widened Panama Canal in 2015.
That investment allowed Lee a marital do-over at Wednesday morning's celebration, upgrading the "cheap ring" he gave Susan Ginkel 23 years ago with the naming of one of Seagirt's four gleaming white cranes in her honor.
"Now I can give you a 400-foot, super post-Panamax crane. What other husband in America can say that?" said Lee, pulling back the curtain on a plaque as Gov. Martin O'Malley led other dignitaries in applause.
Maryland officials and Highstar Capital's Ports America signed a 50-year agreement in 2010 that turned over Seagirt's daily operations to the private firm in return for a 50-foot-deep berth and four cranes with the reach and power to unload ships carrying three times the old berth's capacity. The state estimates the deal will be worth $1.8 billion in jobs and revenue over its life.
The Chinese-built cranes, which arrived in traffic-stopping fashion last summer, have been working since January. But superstorm Sandy derailed a dedication ceremony last fall, and this was the earliest everyone could clear their calendars.
Lee, who was a history major at the Johns Hopkins University, likened the partnership that made the expansion possible to the War of 1812, when nearby Fort McHenry defended Baltimore Harbor against attack.
"We fended off the British," he said. "We are fending off the port of Norfolk, and Baltimore will win again."
O'Malley hailed the project as an economic engine that generates $15.7 million in taxes each year and created 3,000 jobs to build the new berth and 2,700 jobs to handle anticipated additional container business.
"Through our collaboration with Ports America, we're moving the port of Baltimore forward, creating jobs and connecting our state with cities and ports half a world away," the governor said.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city was investing $44 million to rebuild Broening Highway, the major thoroughfare that serves Seagirt, to better handle trucks carrying containers. In addition, she said, the city was working with the state and railroad CSX Corp. on a $90 million project to build a depot to handle trains with containers stacked two-high going to and from the port.
Two of the other new cranes also were named: one for Capt. Lorenzo DiCasagrande, vice president of Mediterranean Shipping Co., who died two years ago; and the other for James White, the port's executive director.
Afterward, White discussed what the new berth means.
"This public-private partnership demonstrates what can happen," he said. "There's still a lot of heavy lifting to do. We have to create more jobs, more opportunities, but we have the tools to do it. This means we're ready today for the ships of tomorrow."