There are still many hurdles to be overcome, but it seems increasingly likely that the Inner Harbor may soon get a $50 million terminal for ocean-going cruise ships. And why not? The business is booming. Some five million Americans will take a cruise vacation this year.
For more than a year, Maryland Port Administration officials have been looking at two Inner Harbor parcels as possible sites for a terminal. One of the sites is in Fells Point on land that once housed a chromium ore refining plant. The other is on the opposite side of the harbor, near the HarborView condominium tower. Consultants have focused on such technical considerations as the amount of dredging needed to accommodate vessels as large as the Queen Elizabeth II, turning space, traffic access and environmental impact.
From the very beginning, the Fells Point location appeared to be the favored site. The state now is reportedly negotiating with AlliedSignal Inc. about acquiring a 3.5-acre parcel near Caroline and Thames streets.
The Maryland Department of Transportation has $12 million allocated for the cruise terminal in its draft capital budget. It hopes to get an additional $8.8 million -- mostly in infrastructure improvements -- from the city and then team up with one or more cruise lines to make the project possible.
This is the way to go. Having a cruise line as a partner in the venture would increase the project's viability from the very beginning, assuring promotion, visitor flow and local purchases.
The construction of a passenger terminal in Fells Point would likely speed up the development of two of the city's choicest waterfront parcels for ancillary cruise-line uses, such as hotels, eateries, residences and offices.
The 15-acre AlliedSignal property, which is now being cleaned of chemical contamination, would be the direct beneficiary, of course. But the nearby 20-acre Inner Harbor East waterfront lot also would be far more attractive to investors.
If the terminal were to be built near the HarborView complex, it would accelerate the development of the shoreline along Key Highway (now under reconstruction) all the way to Locust Point.
But the benefits would extend far beyond the terminal's neighbors. Since many passengers would fly into Baltimore, having ships here regularly would increase airport traffic volume and hotel occupancy rates. In brief, a terminal would bring business to everyone from car rental agencies to pharmacies selling medicine for sea sickness.
Only just over a dozen cruise ships visited Baltimore last year. This is one growth area that cannot be neglected without losses for Maryland.