Jacksonville Business Journal – by Mark Szakonyi -Staff Writer
The Jacksonville Port Authority will decide within the next two months whether it will pursue a new cruise terminal in Mayport.
Authority board Chairman David Kulik’s plans to direct his staff on Monday to restart the pursuit of a new terminal come a year after the authority put its plans on hold. If the authority stays in the cruise business, a new terminal is needed since the site of the present cruise terminal at Dames Point will be the future home of Hanjin Shipping’s new container terminal.
“If we don’t make a decision and if we don’t have a plan, I wouldn’t blame the cruise line from continuing its operations elsewhere,” Kulik said.
Savannah has recently expressed interest in attracting Carnival Cruise Lines if Jacksonville doesn’t build a new terminal. Kulik said potential terminal sites east of the Dames Point Bridge other than Mayport have been found in the past year, but he declined to discuss them so as not to impact negotiations.
When a new cruise terminal will be needed is unclear because no date has been set for the start of construction on the Hanjin terminal.
The authority held back on choosing a design firm for the Hanjin terminal after negotiations between the South Korean shipping company and the longshoremen’s union stalled.
Kulik said relations between Hanjin and the International Longshoremen’s Association have greatly improved since then, and he expect a signed contract or understanding between the two soon.
The $208 million container terminal is slated to open in late 2013.
The authority held back on pursuing the new cruise terminal, Kulik said, because it was in the midst of an international trade slump and it was unclear how the cruise industry would fare in the recession. Trade is recovering and, although the cruise industry has made less money, it has kept its Jacksonville ships at more than 100 percent occupancy.
Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company, had a profit of $175 million on revenue of $3.1 billion in the first quarter, compared with profit of $260 million on revenue of $2.9 billion in the same quarter last year.
A new cruise terminal is also needed to allow larger ships to call on the port because height restrictions caused by the Dames Point Bridge and nearby wires prevent access for about 80 percent of major cruise ships.
The cruise line unveiled its $34 million renovation of its 2,052-passenger cruise ship Fascination this month. The poor economy hasn’t prevented the ship from sailing at more than capacity and carrying nearly 185,500 passengers in fiscal 2009.
The number of passengers has grown by 34 percent since Carnival began sailing out of Jacksonville in 2005. The revenue from the sailings helps the authority pay for port infrastructure maintenance and improvements.