Cruise ship proposals coming under increasing scrutiny in Savannah

Tourism is booming in Savannah.

Major hotel construction will begin soon at both the east and west ends of River Street. A couple of other new hotels will soon be popping up on available land along key downtown corridors.

On recent warm winter weekends, downtown has been crawling with tourists — a clear shift from the quiet days of the 20th century and from the slow pace during the recession. On Friday afternoon, I was on River Street with a visitor to the city and saw firsthand the steady stream.

The prospect of even more intense tourism has prompted a much more proactive stance from the Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Historic Savannah Foundation, and others concerned about the impacts.

The city of Savannah has commissioned a study of the viability of creating a cruise ship terminal in Savannah, but look for a major fight if that study suggests that we would be a good starting and ending point for massive cruise liners.

My guess, frankly, is that cruise ships will turn out not be viable in Savannah because of the increasing cargo traffic going to the port and the LNG tankers going to Elba Island (the latter force traffic on the Savannah River to come to a standstill). But that’s just a guess at this point.

And now this from Lesley Conn and Mary Landers at the Savannah Morning News: Charleston warns Savannah about cruise ships. From the article:

The cautionary tales came Thursday from our neighboring port city, but they were shared by others from Alaska and British Columbia and from Norway, Cozumel and Venice.

Once big cruise ships come to a city, they can overwhelm a community’s resources — crowding streets, jamming sidewalks and attractions, contributing to pollution and generating far less in spending and tax dollars than is usually anticipated.

Conn and Landers were writing about last week’s conference in Charleston, Harboring Tourism. From USA Today’s preview of that conference, Are cruise ships ruining historic ports?:

The growing industry and plans by the South Carolina State Ports Authority to build a $35 million cruise terminal have brought lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Plaintiffs are concerned that pollution and congestion threaten Charleston’s historic district. City leaders say that the industry is being handled appropriately and that Charleston will never be a major cruise destination.

Concerns over the year-round industry prompted the National Trust to place Charleston on its “watch list” of endangered places and the World Monuments Fund to put the city on its Monuments Watch list.

And this:

Sam Jones, mayor of Mobile, Ala., is scheduled to speak at the conference. In his city, $20 million was invested in a cruise terminal in 2004. But later, Carnival Cruise Lines moved the liner serving the city to New Orleans. Now, Mobile has the challenge of paying for a terminal no longer used for cruises.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all this plays out.

I’m going to continue to advocate for public policies (like measures to encourage greater residential density) that will create a more diversified downtown economy.

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