Image: Jim Newsome
Bruce Smith  /  AP
Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, addresses a rally in support of the state's growing cruise industry May 9 in Charleston, S.C. The South Carolina State Ports Authority has started design work for its new $25 million terminal for the state's the growing cruise industry.
By
updated 5/16/2011 5:30:20 PM ET 2011-05-16T21:30:20

The ongoing debate over cruise liners docking in Charleston has reached well beyond the city's historic waterfront.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation expects to announce on June 15 whether to include Charleston on its list of the nation's 11 most endangered historic places. Trust President Stephanie Meeks wrote Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. recently that the size and number of liners "threaten the very character of this historic place."

But the mayor fired back, saying it would be outrageous to add Charleston. The city is honored for its historic preservation efforts and crafted the nation's first tourism management plan.

"It would harm our city, its residents and it would not be based on truth," Riley wrote.

As the cruise industry grows and plans for a new $25 million state cruise terminal move forward, some opponents view the ships as bringing an endless stream of tourists, traffic and pollution.

Industry supporters see jobs in a tough economy, diversification for the waterfront and reaffirmation of what Charleston has always been — a seaport town thriving on a deep, sheltered Atlantic harbor for 340 years.

Debate over such issues is as much a part of Charleston as quiet gardens, passing carriages and pastel buildings.

A working waterfront
Plans in the 1980s for Charleston Place, the hotel development that led to a renaissance of the city shopping district, were hotly debated by preservationists as were new courthouses at the city's famed "Four Corners of Law." Opponents of the South Carolina Aquarium that opened a decade ago often said the last thing the city needed was a fish tank.

"It's very good this is a community where people believe they have right to express their views," said Riley, who said he doesn't get discouraged by constant debate. "Worthwhile developments and projects that have occurred here were not without controversy and the city is better because we were seeking the truth and came up with the very best solution."

The current debate centers on cruise ships.

"Can you name a place whose character and appeal and market differentiation in terms of tourism has been improved by cruise ship travel? I don't find any," Jonathan Tourtellot, founding director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations told an overflow crowd of 500 at a forum last week.

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Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, told about 100 people at a rally beforehand the terminal is needed to support the industry and provide good waterfront jobs.

"Cruise is a small part of our total business — about 7 percent, but it's an important diversification," he said. "We have been in the cruise business for 40 years and we plan on being in the cruise business for a long time to come."

Some protesters at the rally said they didn't oppose the industry but that it needs to be better regulated.

The authority first proposed renovating its 1970s-era existing cinderblock terminal. But now it plans to create the new terminal in an old warehouse farther up the waterfront, opening large areas to public waterfront access and redevelopment. Cargo operations, including BMW's shipping operation, have been moved farther up river.

A year-round industry
There have been seasonal cruises from Charleston in years past, but things changed a year ago when Carnival permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in Charleston, creating a year-round industry.

Tourism is an $18.4 billion industry in South Carolina and a study for the authority found cruises are about $37 million yearly.

Riley told the forum there will be only be an average of two cruise calls a week in what is a niche market. He said the approximately 200,000 passengers a year is only about 4 percent of the city's 4.5 million visitors.

On some weekends, he said, there are as many as 36,000 people downtown and Charleston is not like Key West and overwhelmed by cruise ships.

"There is no economic basis to expect Charleston to become a cruise ship mecca. We are not in the Bahamas and we are not in the Caribbean," he said.

There were concerns, however, about the stability of the industry.

John Norquist, an urban planner and former mayor of Milwaukee, noted that Carnival has pulled out of Mobile, Ala., where there was a $20 million cruise terminal. The company announced in March that it was leaving because, while ships were full, it could not make enough money because of fuel costs.

The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, which says the Charleston terminal could be located elsewhere, had urban planner Andrew Zitofsky look at the concept plan.

Without the terminal and its nine acres of parking, the land has a real estate value of $532 million and would generate $7 million annually in tax revenues, the review found.

"When you look at this, it's an historic choice. It's a big moment for Charleston," he said. "There is another use for this land that should be looked at."

But Riley said the city needs a working waterfront.

"We don't need to sell off every square inch of the waterfront," he said. "Cities are about more than money. They are about people and they are about jobs and they are about public access to the waterfront. That's why this project is right."

Alex Sanders, a raconteur and former College of Charleston president, said he doesn't have a personal interest in the debate but said what makes Charleston great is its variety of people.

"There's the idea that those of us lucky enough to live here somehow own Charleston and have the right to close it to others," he said. "I don't think we have that right."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: New cruise ships sailing into 2011

  • Image: Allure of the Seas
    Roni Lehti  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Allure of the Seas

    Looks like it’s full speed ahead for the cruise industry. With Allure of the Seas now in Fort Lauderdale, Disney Dream set to debut and a half-dozen other new ships on the way, the rough seas of the recession are growing calmer by the day.

    That’s good news for cruisers, says Stewart Chiron, aka The Cruise Guy. “The fact that these ships are coming out during difficult times is a testament to the industry’s resilience,” he said. “A lot of people who wouldn’t have taken a cruise before are now considering one.”

    First-timer or not, here’s a look at eight new additions to the fleet:

  • Allure of the Seas

    Image: Allure of the Seas' zipline
    Rob Lovitt

    Allure embarked on her inaugural cruise on Dec. 5, and she shares the title of world’s biggest cruise ship with its twin Oasis of the Seas, but adds a few new amenities. In addition to the zip line and skating rink, the surf machines and climbing walls, you’ll also find a 3-D theater, the first Romero Britto store at sea and two new restaurants, including a Mexican cantina and Brazilian steakhouse. Get some sleep before you go, suggests Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief at CruiseCritic.com, or be prepared to swing by another new onboard amenity: the first Starbucks at sea.

  • Marina

    Image: Oceania Marina
    Oceania

    A Lalique grand staircase, a hands-on culinary arts center co-sponsored by Bon Appétit and a trio of owners’ suites with Ralph Lauren furnishings — Marina has all the makings of an ultra-premium experience, but with a surprisingly “egalitarian” ambience. As Oceania’s first purpose-built ship (launching Jan. 22), Marina is significantly larger than its siblings (65,000 tons vs. 30,000), carries more passengers (1,258 vs. 684) and features several new restaurants, including Jacques, the first eatery anywhere to bear the name of famed French chef Jacques Pépin. “[Marina] will be an intriguing hybrid of luxury and mid-market pricing,” said Spencer Brown. “It’s a category that’s never existed before.”

  • Disney Dream

    Image: Disney Dream
    Disney

    It’s been 11 years since Disney launched a new cruise ship and Mickey’s minions have clearly gone all out. Launching on Jan. 26, the ship will carry 2,500 passengers (4,000 with all beds filled) on fantasy-filled cruises between Port Canaveral and the Bahamas. Among the innovations: The Enchanted Garden restaurant, where the decor changes from day to night; inside cabins with virtual portholes with underwater scenes, and the AquaDuck, a 750-foot “watercoaster” that winds up, down and around the ship’s upper decks. “Dream is the Oasis of 2011,” said Spencer Brown. “It’s going to be different than everything that’s come before it.”

  • L’Austral

    Image: L'Austral
    Erick Larrieu  /  L'Austral

    Having opened a U.S. office just this year, the French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant is probably still unfamiliar to many American cruisers. That may change with the arrival of the line’s fifth ship, L’Austral, a 132-cabin mega-yacht that will launch on April 27. Not surprisingly, the onboard amenities — two restaurants, plus a spa, theater, lounge and library — will provide more than a soupçon of French flair even as the ship’s itineraries take her far beyond the Côte d’Azur. After spending the summer in the Mediterranean, the ship will sail on to Africa, Antarctica and other exotic ports of call.

  • Carnival Magic

    Image: Carnival Magic
    Carnival

    The latest addition to the Carnival fleet manages a neat trick: Although it’s a carbon copy of Carnival Dream, this 130,000-ton, 3,690-passenger ship tweaks the Fun Ship formula with several new amenities. Get a workout on the first ropes course at sea; cool off in a waterpark featuring a 500-gallon dump bucket, then retire to the RedFrog Pub for private-label beers and Caribbean-flavored snacks or Cucina del Capitano for hand-made pastas and select Italian wines. Launching on May 1, “Magic is perfect for entry-level or first-time cruisers,” said Dwain Wall, senior vice president/general manager for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

  • Seabourn Quest

    Image: Seabourn Odyssey
    Copyright 2009 Michel Verdure

    As the sister ship to the Odyssey (pictured) and Sojourn, Seabourn Quest joins a fleet that Chiron calls “quite possibly the nicest cruise ships on the planet.” Like her predecessors, the ship features a two-deck spa, four restaurants and 225 suite-style cabins, 90 percent of which have private balconies. The result: a yacht-like experience without upper-crust fustiness that draws younger cruisers than other ultra-luxury lines. You can join them on a three-day pre-inaugural cruise from Monte Carlo on June 9, a 14-day maiden voyage from Barcelona on June 20 or, if you’re feeling flush, a 109-day world cruise starting Jan. 5, 2012.

  • Costa Favolosa

    Image: Costa Favoloso
    Matteo Piazza  /  Courtesy of Costa Cruises

    The name is Italian for fairy tale; the decor is modeled after an enchanted castle, and the ambience is Carnival Fun Ship (Costa’s parent company) meets the Continent. Launching on July 4, the 3,000-passenger ship offers several of Costa’s signature Concordia-class amenities, including a Grand Prix driving simulator, 4-D cinema (3-D, plus physical effects) and two-level pool deck with a glass roof and movie screen. New additions, including verandah suites with Jacuzzi tubs, a teen entertainment area and a water park for little cruisers, should only add to la dolce vita.

  • Celebrity Silhouette

    Image: Celebrity Eclipse
    Simon Brooke-Webb  /  Celebrity

    Details are still sketchy on Celebrity’s newest ship, but the fourth vessel in the line’s innovative Solstice class will replicate the most popular amenities of her predecessors, including a glass-blowing studio, recreation area with real grass and Qsine, the eclectic, iPad-menu-equipped restaurant that debuted on Eclipse (pictured). “It’ll be like a floating boutique hotel,” said Chiron of the 2,850-passenger ship, which will begin sailing Mediterranean and Holy Land itineraries on July 23. Those who prefer more tropical itineraries will have to wait until next fall when the ship will start offering 12-night Caribbean cruises from Bayonne, N.J.

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