ANNAPOLIS – With Maryland falling behind in the competition to attract cruise-ship passengers, a coalition of AAA Mid-Atlantic and other businesses and associations have asked Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich to support building a new cruise terminal in Baltimore.
Citing a decline of cruises scheduled to depart from Baltimore in 2005, the coalition wrote Ehrlich in late August asking him to make a decision about proceeding with the development of a new terminal.
“We think it’s imperative that an announcement be made (soon),” AAA spokeswoman Amanda Knittle said. “(We’ve) already lost a lot of business for 2005.”
Virginia plans and New Jersey built better cruise facilities, making it necessary for Baltimore to enhance its port, Knittle said.
Less than 30 percent of those who cruise out of Baltimore are from Maryland, she said, so “there’s a possibility to generate additional income in attracting out-of-state tourists.”
Only 28 cruises are scheduled to depart from Baltimore in 2005, down from nearly 70 departures in 2004. In addition, just two cruise lines – Royal Caribbean and Celebrity – will operate from Baltimore, down from five this year.
The Maryland Port Administration and the Department of Business and Economic Development have studied different locations for a new terminal.
DBED funded 70 percent of a study to determine possible new sites, including Canton Crossing, North Locust Point and South Locust Point.
The Port Animation Study gave three-dimensional images of port channels, showing depths to determine the ease of getting boats in and out of docks, said Dennis Castleman, assistant secretary for the division of tourism, film and the arts. The images were also used to determine if dredging would be necessary at the sites.
The findings from that study, along with an economic impact study, will be discussed and the results will be presented to the governor within the next two weeks, Castleman said.
“I can assure you that the governor is very anxious to finalize and move forward with a cruise ship facility,” Castleman said. “I can say that and mean it because I’ve heard it from his mouth.”
Tourists now depart from the same terminal as cargo, Knittle said, an unattractive embarking point.
“It’s not a very welcoming sight,” Knittle said. “When you go to an airport, you’re not flying out of a cargo hangar . . . A better terminal could only enhance the experience for the cruise customers as well as the cruise line.”
The governor’s office did not say when a decision will be made.
“This request has to be considered in the context of the budget deficit that he inherited and still persists today,” spokesman Henry Fawell said.
The governor has not received any budget proposals, so it would be premature to talk about such a budgeting decision, Fawell said.
“The governor is committed to a strong and vibrant port and cruise industry,” Fawell said. “The request will be reviewed like any other request for budgeting.”
That answer may not suffice for members of the coalition.
“We were told at a meeting on Aug. 30 that an announcement would be made very soon,” Knittle said. “We’re serious about the cruise business and committed to developing a new terminal.” Estimates for a Baltimore facility could not be given, but a new terminal in Norfolk, Va., will cost $36 million and $5 million in associated infrastructure and New Jersey invested $42 million in its port in Bayonne, according to the letter written to Ehrlich, and signed by 12 organizations, along with AAA.