The Marina Bar and Grill, on the grounds of the Galveston Yacht Basin, overlooks Pier 10 in Galveston.
On a recent afternoon, the few customers at the restaurant, where the specialty is fish and chips, were able to look out over the Galveston Ship Channel and watch as a massive cargo carrier unloaded cars, trucks and other vehicles onto the pier.
The restaurant is mostly a local joint, outside the normal orbit of tourists coming to the island, owner Paul Murdoch said.
“We’re really a locals restaurant,” he said. “But just like every other small business in Galveston, we need the tourism down here.”
In a few years, he might find himself looking down on thousands more tourists, as the Port of Galveston converts Pier 10 from a cargo terminal to its third cruise terminal.
Being within sight of the thousands of the tourists that will go to the new terminal could be a boon for the restaurant, Murdoch said.
“I’m sure that kind of influx is going to be beneficial for the whole island,” he said.
The Port of Galveston and Royal Caribbean in December announced plans to build a $100 million cruise terminal at Pier 10. Planned to be completed by 2021, the new terminal could potentially be home to some of the largest cruise ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.
The terminal is expected to bring more traffic to the island’s East End, city officials have said. For the most part, officials and residents have been positive about the announcement, but there are rumblings of concern from some about how a new terminal will affect the peace and quiet of East End neighborhoods.
“There are more concerns about traffic than there is eagerness to see development that way,” said Elizabeth Beeton, a Galveston Wharves Board trustee and East End resident and former city councilwoman. “I think they’re worried about the vehicles parking at the cruise terminal.”
The existing cruise terminals between 21st and 29th streets on Harborside Drive can cause long traffic backups on days when two cruise ships are set to leave the port.
Port officials are working on a traffic plan that seeks to funnel traffic to the new terminal down Broadway, instead of Harborside Drive. That could lead to drivers seeking shortcuts through neighborhoods to get to the terminal faster.
“They certainly may take that shortcut, it depends on what their apps are telling them,” Beeton said. “If there’s traffic on the routes that they’ve designated, the apps are going to send them through the neighborhood.”
The city could take some measures to make shortcuts to the port harder, such as adding stop signs or other obstacles in the residential areas, she said.
Tourists on their way to a cruise are preferable to the current situation, where as many as 550 large trucks carrying cars and heavy equipment roll through the area each week, said Galveston City Councilman David Collins, whose district includes Pier 10 and the neighborhoods around it.
The plans to construct the cruise terminal will mean that some of the heavy machinery that rolls off at Pier 10 will be shifted to the west end of the port, which is already used by more industrial businesses.
“The key is that we’re going to be moving the high-and-heavy loads to the west end of the port,” Collins said. “By eliminating that truck traffic, we can handle a lot of automobile traffic with no increase of inconvenience to residents.”
The East End is home to some of the most organized and active neighborhood groups in Galveston, and residents are sensitive to city plans that could generate quality-of-life complaints.
Some of the groups have organized against initiatives that would ostensibly bring more people, traffic or disruption through residential areas. There was a failed proposal to ban short-term rentals in the East End, when the city rewrote its zoning codes in 2015. Last year, the city did agree to ban new duplexes from operating in the East End, in the name of preserving neighborhoods and alleviating parking problems.
Concerns about more transient congestion are being allayed by an early and earnest public information campaign by port leaders, said Jeff Patterson, president of the East End Historical District Association. The historic district is just southwest of the new terminal, potentially in the path of cruisers seeking to avoid Harborside Drive on their way to the new terminal.
“They’re being proactive in the community and trying to get things out there,” Patterson said.
He noted that port Director Rodger Rees and Wharves Board of Trustees Chairman Ted O’Rourke also live in the East End, so they have a stake in making sure the new terminal isn’t too disruptive to everyday life, Patterson said.
O’Rourke knew that some people were going to come forward with objections to whatever plans the port and city come up with, he said.
“There’s always going to be people that don’t want anything else,” O’Rourke said. “They like it like it is, they don’t want change.”
His goal was to work with neighborhoods in a “calming way,” O’Rourke said.
“I want to work with them to let them know that we’re going to do whatever we can do as far as traffic control to make sure it’s not coming through the neighborhoods,” O’Rourke said.
He hoped that people were happy about the economic opportunities the new cruise terminal could generate, he said.
That’s the attitude Jesus Torres, the owner of the Torres Barber and Beauty Salon on 14th Street, was taking with the news. The by-appointment shop doesn’t expect to get much more business from visitors, but could see an expanded customer base in another type of person coming off the ships: cruise line employees looking for a haircut in between departures.
“For me, I think it’s going to be very nice,” Torres said. “I’m going to get more customers. If they put a new terminal close by, it’s going to be much better.”