COLUMBIA, S.C. — The top executive of the South Carolina State Ports Authority said Thursday he has asked architects to submit design proposals for a new cruise ship passenger terminal to open within two years in Charleston.
“Cruises are good for Charleston, and good for the port,” Jim Newsome, Ports Authority president and CEO, said in a news release. “We are firmly committed to manage our cruise business in a way that protects and preserves that character.”
In February, the Ports Authority unveiled its plans to renovate an existing building used by BMW for its port operations as a terminal to replace an aging cinderblock structure now almost 40 years old. The building has room for parking and dropping off passengers, avoiding snarls that sometimes occur when cruise ships call.
Besides the one-berth terminal, the plan for 63 acres on the waterfront calls for more public water access, allowing someone to walk about four miles down one side of the Charleston peninsula and up the other and, with few exceptions, always see the water.
“This is the most important redevelopment opportunity in the Charleston area,” Newsome said. “And it is entirely dependent upon the relocation of the passenger terminal.”
This has been the first year-round cruising season from Charleston. In March, the Celebrity Mercury, was forced to return early on three straight trips from Charleston, plagued by outbreaks of intestinal illness. Two months later, the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy arrived in town, becoming the first cruise liner to be based permanently on South Carolina’s coast.
According to a study commissioned by the authority, cruises this year will mean $37 million to the economy in South Carolina, where tourism overall is an $18.4 billion industry. The study said cruises supported 400 jobs in the Charleston area with $16.2 million in salaries and wages and generated $3.5 million in tax revenue.
Environmentalists have expressed concern that more cruise ships in Charleston could mean more pollution in the city’s historic harbor, which will see a total of 67 cruise ship calls and more than 2,000 container and other ships this year.
Concerned that the ships bring in too many people too quickly, causing congestion and pollution, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League has suggested officials approve rules like limiting cruise ships to one arrival at a time and capping the number of passengers and the heights of the vessels.
“Every other business that operates in Charleston, whether it is a hotel, a restaurant, a carriage company, or a retail store, abides by extensive regulations governing architecture, size of the building, types of activities that can take place, traffic impacts and more,” Dana Beach, the group’s executive director, wrote Monday in an op-ed article. “To allow cruise lines, which are neither Charleston-based nor incorporated in the U.S., to operate with impunity, outside of the framework of local controls that apply to other commercial enterprises, is unfair and potentially dangerous to the future of our city.”
Newsome and others have said cruise ships adhere to strict environmental standards and do not dump sewage into the harbor.
Newsome also noted the Ports Authority has formed an advisory council with residents in the downtown neighborhoods near the terminal site. Officials hope the one-berth terminal will be open in two years.