GALVESTON — The Port of Galveston’s governing board on Monday unanimously approved spending up to $100,000 on design plans for a third cruise-ship terminal in effort to avoid losing another passenger ship to rival Port of Houston.

The seven-member Wharves Board of Trustees agreed to hire Los Angeles architect firm McTigue for programming, concept design and alternative development plans for a third cruise terminal. The port would pay no more than $100,000 for McTigue’s services, officials said.

The port, which operates the Texas Cruise Ship Terminal at Pier 25 and Cruise Terminal No. 2 at Pier 27, needs more berths. Two Carnival Cruise Lines ships and one Royal Caribbean International vessel sail from the island year-round.

In November, the port was unable to accommodate Princess Cruise Lines’ desire to homeport a seasonal ship in Galveston for the winter cruise season because two other vessels would be in port on preferred sailing dates, Port Director Michael Mierzwa said.

Because the island port lacked a third cruise terminal, Princess moved its ship to the Port of Houston Authority’s Bayport terminal, he said.

Cruise lines also have had to modify their schedules to avoid having three ships needing to dock at two terminals on the same day.

As recently as eight years ago the port could accommodate three cruise ships at once. But the ships were a little shorter then. Cruise lines are commissioning ever larger ships to increase passenger counts, which poses the challenge.

The wharves board late last month approved a five-year agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises that would generate a minimum of $1.86 million in annual operating revenues for the public docks. But the deal was predicated on the port making about $10 million in improvements to Cruise Terminal No. 2.

Royal Caribbean said the agreement would mean more island sailings this year and next and also promised to bring a larger vessel to Galveston if the port made improvements to Cruise Terminal No. 2 to accommodate more passengers.

Meanwhile, cruise lines offering seven-day sailings all want to leave on Saturdays or Sundays.

“Everybody wants to go on a weekend,” Mierzwa said.  

Even if costs weren’t an issue — and costs always are an issue for the cash-strapped port — there are logistics to consider. Expansion too far east of the Texas Cruise Ship Terminal would interfere with restaurant, tourism and retail developments at Pier 22, which is port property. A grain elevator occupies port property to the west.

To avoid losing more ships and in hopes of attracting new ones, the port wants to move ahead with a third terminal, Mierzwa said.

“We want to be proactive,” Mierzwa said after Monday’s wharves board meeting.

Waterfront managers have been considering more cruise ship berths for some time. In June 2012, before Princess Cruise Lines bailed from the lineup, the wharves board approved an agreement with a cost not to exceed $60,000 between the Galveston Port Facilities Corp. and consulting firm CH2M Hill for a conceptual study of how to berth three cruise ships in one day.

The study was meant to give port managers an idea of what improvements would have to be made or could be made to accommodate all the ships wanting to sail on Saturdays.

But that study focused on berthing space, not terminal design. The port must also provide facilities to accommodate thousands of passengers and their luggage and to get everyone cleared through customs.

The port has hired McTigue, which assisted in the development of both island cruise terminals, to work in three phases that would culminate in a final report:

• Programming would include a detailed look at flow diagrams for embarkation, disembarkation and provisioning, as well as defining appropriate spaces and the size of those spaces to accommodate passengers, as well as the various federal inspection services, particularly U.S. Customs and Border Protection;

• Second would be space planning and design of the terminal and the site based on the information gathered in the first phase. McTigue would provide various alternatives for the port’s consideration. In this phase, previous studies, including CH2M Hill’s berthing study, will be reviewed to ensure that firm’s recommendations also are considered;

• McTigue would then examine alternatives and recommend a preferred one. McTigue also would be asked to evaluate the prospective plans for expansion of Cruise Terminal No. 2 to accommodate the larger Royal Caribbean ships to ensure the design can be incorporated into plans for a third terminal.

Mierzwa expects a report from McTigue possibly in May.

Contact reporter Laura Elder at 409-683-5248 or laura.elder@galvnews.com

(2) comments

Mike Leahy

Lack of dock space in Galveston may indeed drive cruise ships (reluctantly) to Houston's until recently unused white elephant (cruise ship terminal).

However, what role does the large sums of money the Port of Houston is reported to have offered as incentive to the ship owners played in the decision to move a ship to Houston? Large cash incentives can change a reluctant ship owner into an enthusiastic one, when trying to lure sailings away from Galveston.

Cruise ship owners would prefer not to pay for the additional Pilot and tugboat costs of going to Houston, no to mention the additional risk for transiting that much of the Houston Ship Channel and it's continuous flow of large and dangerous tankers. The 1 hour sea buoy to dock transit at the Port of Galveston offers is a big drawing card.

Increasing dock space at the Port of Galveston can solve congestion issues but, it will not overcome Uncle Sugar (Port of Houston) offering boatloads of cash.

GW Cornelius

Bout time. In this case if you build it they will come.

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