MPA presses on land purchase for cruise terminal

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Port Administration is pushing a $2.5 million land acquisition deal that would double the size of the parking lot at its South Locust Point cruise terminal.

The move comes as Baltimore readies itself to become a year-round cruise port when behemoth Carnival Cruise Lines begins weekly sailings in September next year that are expected to handle 115,000 passengers a year. After a four-year hiatus, Norwegian Cruise Lines returns to Baltimore on Saturday with a seasonal schedule to Bermuda, signaling that the lagging local industry is on the rebound.

Purchasing the 4.72 acres adjacent to the cruise terminal would allow for the creation of 530 parking spaces in addition to the 524 that currently exist for embarking passengers, port administration spokesman J.B. Hanson said. The new parking lot could open in time for the spring 2009 cruise season, Hanson added. Baltimore will then be served by the three top cruise lines, up from the one - Royal Caribbean - that has cruised out of the port the past few years.

The purchase of the land from owner Transoceanic Cable Ship Co. Inc. requires approval by the state Board of Public Works, which is scheduled to take it up June 25.

"With the success of the cruise passenger business in Baltimore and commitments from additional cruise lines to service Baltimore, MPA needs additional acreage to handle the overflow parking needs as a result of the additional cruise activity," the port administration wrote in its request to the board.

In addition to enlarging the parking lot, the port promised Carnival that it would build an aluminum canopy shelter between the lot and terminal, improve the parking space lines and signage and enhance the terminal's appearance with tropical plants and other decor.

With Carnival recently announcing it would return to Baltimore, the city has 55 cruise departures scheduled next year, up from 27 this year. Baltimore has annually had slightly fewer than 30 cruise departures since 2005.

Among East Coast cruise ports, Baltimore ranks in the middle of the pack. In 2006, Boston had 3,000 more passengers embark there, and Philadelphia had 7,000 fewer cruise travelers than Baltimore, according to the most recent data available from the Cruise Lines International Association.

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