Port told not to go overboard on cruises

New study sees modest boost to city from increased calls

We aren't N.Y. or Miami

March 01, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The cruise ship business can float in Baltimore, but a projected industry wave of passengers and vessels would not boost the city to levels reached in New York and Florida, according to a soon-to-be released study conducted for the Maryland Port Administration.

The port wanted to know how aggressively it should pursue cruisers' dollars and the ships they sail in on.

It also wanted to determine how much taxpayer money should be spent to build a new terminal away from the present location - a crowded industrial berth at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

Do not go overboard, concludes the report, conducted by Florida consultants Bermello, Ajamil & Partners.

It says the cruise ship business would not be a major boon to port revenue. But an increase in calls on Baltimore would moderately benefit tourism-related income in the form of taxes, jobs and hotel room stays, among other things.

"From our review of cruise passenger projections and anticipated [Maryland Port Administration] derived revenues, a significant investment in cruise infrastructure is likely unsupportable," says an executive summary of the report, made available yesterday by the port.

Port officials said they plan to move ahead cautiously.

They already have big-name local developers vying to build a terminal that would be funded and operated under a public-private agreement. There are no formal proposals submitted, but at least three sites have been offered for a modern, more people-friendly terminal around the Inner Harbor.

Businessman Edwin F. Hale Sr. said he would build a $20 million to $30 million terminal on the eastern fringe of Canton at his planned office and retail complex called Canton Crossing.

A team led by bakery mogul John Paterakis Sr. and developer C. William Struever wants the terminal on the former AlliedSignal peninsula near Inner Harbor East and Fells Point.

Struever also pitched state-owned land in North Locust Point, next to his Tide Point office complex.

None of the developers was available yesterday for comment.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who chairs the commission that would forward a proposal to the state Board of Public Works, has said there will be a new terminal and that a selection process could take months.

But there is no specific timetable for choosing a site, Kate Philips, a spokeswoman for the port administration, said yesterday. And no sites - publicly offered or not - have been ruled out.

"This report gives us a little bit of guidance, not only for our potential capital investment in a terminal, but on the impact the cruise business can have on the state and the city," Philips said. She said Baltimore's cruise season is somewhat limited by its climate, and the location is short of ideal for cruising since it is not on the ocean.

Cruising also will not likely ever be a huge moneymaker for the port. But the tourism benefits cannot be overlooked.

"We'll never be a Miami or a New York," she said. "But this tells us to continue to seek customers in the cruise business.

"We'll market to them, but we'll have realistic expectations of where we can go."

The state might seek a new terminal that could be used for multiple purposes, such as banquets, in the off-season, she said.

In the meantime, the 42 cruises scheduled at Dundalk this year are being squeezed out by cargo and will move down to the port's Berth 3. Most are from Celebrity Cruises Inc., which discovered Baltimore when its vessels were diverted from New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The shed once used for forest products and other cargo will be upgraded to serve passengers.

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