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South Carolina Ports announces end of Carnival Cruise contract

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 5:56 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 11:57 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Carnival Cruises will no longer depart and return to Union Pier Terminal in Charleston starting in 2024.

On Wednesday, the SC Ports announced it will not be renewing the homeport cruising contract, and will instead focus on redevelopment of Union Pier. The ports do still plan to host ships as a port of call in the future.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of South Carolina Ports Authority, says this has been a conversation for a while.

“As time has gone along, and certainly the real estate values have increased in Charleston and just the opportunity to do something really transformational. The City of Charleston has led us to the conclusion to do a complete non-maritime redevelopment. And the consequence of that is we really don’t have a place to do a home port operation after the end of this contract in 2024,” Newsome says.

Newsome says they have engaged Low Enterprises, the firm building the Cooper Hotel on Concord Street, for the redevelopment.

“So they are running point on the planning, and that planning really entails deciding what steps and taking the steps needed to get this property to what’s known as a planned unit development phase,” Newsome says.

He says the timeline goal is to move with the development as fast as possible once the 2024 contract with Carnival is up.

“Basically where there’s a master plan that can be approved, and then developers can then buy the property and do what’s in their best interest on that property,” Newsome says.

He says there will be an engagement phase to see what they want coming to the area while they make a master plan.

Newsome says he thinks the idea will have a lot of benefits.

“It’s attractive to everyone in the sense that the city will benefit by getting property back on its tax rolls. And really realigning the whole city of Charleston with its historic waterfront, there’s no access to the waterfront today if you think about it,” he says.

But the decision will impact how certain tourists engage with the city.

Erik Koenig is the Front of House at Queology Restaurant on Market Street, right across from the Carnival Sunshine Port. He is worried how this might change the business.

“When the ship is in, the crew gets off, they eat, they come by the shop,” Koenig said. “The people that are waiting to get on the cruise, they shop, they walk through town for hours and they settle in until it’s time to get on the ship.”

He says they will be grateful for port of call tourists, but have concerns with how construction and development will change the area in the coming years.

“We appreciate anything we can get,” Koenig says. “But the port of origin is very important to us because this is where all the folks come to this corner, this area, the market and everything else which is a huge impact on us. So we’re a little bit concerned right now about this.”

The Coastal Conservation League released the following statement in support of the decision:

While we are optimistic about what appears to be a new direction for the future of the cruise industry in Charleston, we look forward to learning more about the implications of this decision. We support limited port of call business—especially smaller ships that will have a greater economic impact—as long as the SPA continues to abide by a previous agreement to limit cruise ships in Charleston to 103 visits or fewer each year. We also need more information about whether ships will be docked overnight.

Newsome says the terminal is a great asset to the city and this opens up a lot of opportunities for how people will interact with the area in the future.

“This decision came clearer and clearer over time and ultimately, it’s the best business decision for the port,” Newsome says.

Carnival Cruise Line issued a statement on the decision Wednesday morning.

“It is amazing to see the continued growth of Charleston’s tourism economy, and Carnival is proud to have been a part it of since 2010. While exciting for the future of Charleston, the redevelopment of Union Pier Terminal will, unfortunately, mean Carnival will no longer homeport a ship in Charleston beyond 2024. We will work with the Ports Authority to explore future opportunities in Charleston. In the meantime, it is business as usual and we look forward to seeing our guests aboard Carnival Sunshine through 2024.”

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