Officials push for new Charleston cruise terminal by 2012

By Nicole Johnson  bio | email | Twitter

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Plans for a new cruise terminal in Charleston are gaining steam.

South Carolina State Ports Authority officials say the current terminal, a 40-year-old building, needs to be replaced and relocated.

"I think you'd agree this is not a proper cruise terminal," SCSPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said Thursday during a press conference. "So, it's a modern cruise terminal operation. They get on and off the ship fast. Then it would give them another reason to come back, they'll say this is a nice cruise operation so it's a nice city."

After several months of planning and gathering public input, the SPA has decided to build a new terminal on the northern end of its property, and leave the current terminal location open for development into something such as a waterfront park, which the public can enjoy.

The new passenger terminal would be located just a few blocks near the corner of Concord and Laurens Streets. It means passengers embarking or disembarking will no longer be walking distance from the bustling city market.

Mayor Joe Riley says businesses won't suffer.

"Passengers will be able to get off the ship, get on a free shuttle, and be right in the downtown area," Riley said.

The Ports Authority said the relocation project will be good for the whole city. The benefits include: reduced traffic, no cruise day road closures, removal of cargo operations, public waterfront access, and a safer terminal.

As the terminal relocation plans move forward, the state ports authority hopes the public will be on board. The Ports Authority will be accepting proposals from architects in the fall. They hope to have construction complete by 2012. It is an estimated $25-million project for the new terminal, which the Ports Authority will pay for. If this doesn't pan out remodeling the current terminal is still an option.

Charleston has welcomed almost 1,000 cruise ships during the past 37 years. This has been the first year-round cruising season from Charleston.

"Cruises are good for Charleston, and good for the port," he said.  "Cruise ships provide jobs and more than $37 million in annual economic impact."

Newsome added that about one-third of cruise ship passengers spend at least one night in Charleston, about half visit attractions and patronize local restaurants and almost all of them say they plan to return to Charleston.

"They recognize and appreciate Charleston's special character, and we are firmly committed to manage our cruise business in a way that protects and preserves that character," Newsome said.

The ports authority estimates cruises pumped $37 million into the state's economy.

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