Mayor Martin O'Malley threw his support yesterday behind a proposal to put a new state cruise-ship terminal on industrial Canton's gentrifying waterfront.
The terminal would be part of Canton Crossing, a $100 million office and retail complex being developed by businessman and banker Edwin F. Hale Sr.
The project sits on an 18-acre site of a former Exxon oil refinery now undergoing cleanup at Boston and Clinton streets.
"There is no better site for a cruise ship terminal than this site," O'Malley said during the remarks at Canton Crossing's official groundbreaking.
The Maryland Port Administration has begun accepting applications for a new terminal.
Developers who own or control land in the Inner Harbor have proposed three other sites: the former AlliedSignal property off Inner Harbor East, Tide Point in Locust Point and Port Covington.
The current passenger terminal at Dundalk Marine Terminal is in danger of being squeezed out by an increased need for cargo space.
Officials also view a new terminal as a chance to boost tourism by providing a more pleasant backdrop for cruise ships and one that is closer to restaurants, hotels and other attractions.
Before selecting a site, port officials want to see a report due in several weeks on the economic benefits of cruise ships in Maryland, said Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Cahalan said the state would weigh the opinions of local leaders on a new site.
In comments after the groundbreaking ceremony, O'Malley said Hale's site is the best because the depth of the harbor there won't require expensive dredging.
A turning basin for the ships is nearby, along with parking and Interstate 95.
Hale, the chairman and chief executive of First Mariner Bank, would lease the cruise ship facility to the state.
He proposes to build a pier with two cruise-ship berths and a 50,000-square-foot building for passengers.
Canton Crossing's first building is an 80,000-square-foot office building that is expected to open in May and house First Mariner's headquarters; Brennan Response, a Hunt Valley advertising company; and Capital Funding, a mortgage banking company.
The building is about half-leased.
Hale also plans a 10,000- square-foot retail and restaurant building, a waterfront promenade, a 17-story office tower, an 180,000-square-foot office and retail building and residential condominiums.
The timing depends on how quickly tenants are found. A hotel is on hold until the economy improves.
"With major arteries to and from Baltimore and the port, the Canton area offers an ideal and convenient location for businesses and residences," Hale said.
"In addition to providing much needed free parking and office space to the downtown area," Hale said, "Canton Crossing will also bring more jobs to Southeast Baltimore during construction and beyond."