Port officials to push for cruise ship terminal

January 11, 1995|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

With a week remaining in the Schaefer administration, port officials are expected to ask the Board of Public Works today to approve the purchase of a 1.2-acre parcel from AlliedSignal Inc. to build an Inner Harbor cruise ship terminal.

The passenger terminal -- expected to cost $50 million, or double initial projections -- is a priority with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is due to leave office next Wednesday. Because of the unexpectedly high cost, state officials said they must team with a private developer to help fund the facility.

In addition, the Maryland Port Administration is seeking 3/8 3/8 TC developer to build a hotel on the site -- an idea that could become increasingly attractive if the state enacts legislation to permit casino gambling, which has been increasingly discussed in recent months.

Details of the agreement to be presented to the three-member board today remained unclear late yesterday. But sources said the deal calls for Allied to repurchase the site if the state is not able to find a development partner. So far, the state has not secured such a commitment.

The proposed terminal site is located near Philpot and Thames streets near the old Allied chrome works plant, which was shut down in 1985 and has been undergoing a state-monitored, $90 million cleanup for more than three years. The parcel under consideration for the terminal is not contaminated, Allied said.

If built, the cruise ship terminal could spur development on the Allied peninsula -- the city's last major undeveloped Inner Harbor property -- which is seen as critical to completion of the waterfront area stretching from Canton, around the Inner Harbor and back out to Locust Point.

The Board of Public Works, which must vote on all major state contracts, is being asked only to approve funds to purchase the site. About $12 million is now earmarked in the state's transportation budget to construct the terminal, though no additional money is being budgeted for the next fiscal year. Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening has said he strongly favors the terminal.

Because the Inner Harbor cruise ship terminal is a longtime goal of the current administration, port officials had been rushing to strike a deal with Allied before Governor Schaefer leaves office. But considerable doubts exist about whether such a facility can attract enough cruise ship lines and tourists to Baltimore to make the project successful.

Over the past decade, the cruise ship industry has grown roughly 10 percent a year, with 4.8 million passengers now traveling the North American and Caribbean routes.

However, Baltimore remains a relatively small player in the cruise line industry, with most international cruise ships sailing from New York or Miami. Only 17 passenger ships a year call on Baltimore.

But casino lobbyists -- now preparing to push the 1995 General Assembly to allow casino gambling -- contend that a hotel located adjacent to a cruise ship terminal would be tailor-made for a casino and make Baltimore more of a magnet for cruise lines.

"The only thing that does make that site attractive [as a cruise terminal] is the possibility that the General Assembly and the city of Baltimore would consider casino gambling there," said John Stierhoff, a lawyer with Dukes Evans Rozner Brown & Stierhoff, who is representing Harveys Casino Resorts.

The expected push for casino legislation follows a national trend in which at least eight states have approved casinos in recent years. But a Mason Dixon poll last weekend found that 59 percent of 809 registered voters interviewed in Maryland opposed legalizing casino gambling in the state.

Similarly, 54 percent of the respondents opposed the idea of allowing gambling on riverboats that, for example, would cruise the Chesapeake Bay or Patapsco River.

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