Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cruise Ships On Amelia?

By Michael Parnell, News-Leader

Above is a conceptual plan for the cruise terminal proposed at Mayport Fishing Village as provided by Jaxport.
It may be wishful thinking, but city officials have entertained the notion of having a cruise ship terminal on the north end of Amelia Island.

That would depend on Jaxport or the city of Jacksonville giving up on locating a terminal at Mayport because of public opposition there.

Public opposition also could be expected here - at least two city commissioners have discouraged the idea - but the mayor hails the possibility as a major economic boost for Fernandina Beach and Nassau County.

"People's major objection is that cruise ships don't bring in business. ... But that's not true," Fernandina Beach Mayor Bruce Malcolm said.

"It would have an enormous effect on the downtown," he said.

Three island sites have been mentioned for a cruise ship terminal - the Port of Fernandina, the former pogy plant adjacent to Fort Clinch State Park and Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. property.

Malcolm admitted that a cruise ship terminal here may be "in the realm of fantasy right now."

Nassau County Commissioner Mike Boyle, a member of the Tourist Development Council, described the prospect as "fanciful."

"About a month ago, I heard a rumor that if the plans for a cruise terminal in Mayport fell apart, that they might consider Fernandina Beach. I don't think there's much chance of that happening," he said.

"I said to the person telling me, 'This sounds like leverage to try to get the Duval people to pass the Mayport thing,' because there's many, many obstacles in Fernandina Beach that would make it impractical."

"There were no details, and that's why I didn't give it a lot of credibility," Boyle said. "I tended to discount it as just a fanciful rumor. ... It hasn't even be mentioned on the TDC, and I haven't heard anything else since that one time somebody spoke to me about it."

"I think there's been some people looking around for alternatives if the Mayport deal doesn't go through, but . . . I haven't talked to anybody from Jaxport," said Gil Langley, president & CEO of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau,

Nassau County Coordinator Ed Sealover said he is unaware of specific conversations with Jacksonville officials about it. "I don't know of any formal contact. I've heard folks talk about the old pogy plant being the location of the new cruise ship (terminal)," he said.

Steve Reich, executive director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board, said, "Nobody has called me officially about any project like that." He said he would wait to see what Jacksonville does before considering the prospect.

Nancy Rubin, director of communications and public relations for Jaxport, said Fernandina Beach has been considered in the past but, "There has been no official Jaxport contact with either Nassau County or Fernandina Beach leaders on the subject of a potential cruise terminal" recently. She said Jaxport is focusing on the Mayport proposal.

Malcolm said the possibility was broached with him at a meeting in St. Augustine about a month ago where he was told there was "a rumor going around" about a possible cruise ship terminal at the Port of Fernandina.

Malcolm said he mentioned the conversation to City Manager Michael Czymbor the next morning. He said as far as he knows, nobody at City Hall has been in contact with Jacksonville or Jaxport officials about locating a cruise terminal in Fernandina Beach.

The matter came up Tuesday at the city commission meeting when Commissioner Ron Sapp said he discussed the matter with Czymbor.

Czymbor told commissioners alternative sites to Mayport included the Port of Fernandina, the former pogy plant and property at Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.

Sapp has concerns, and Commissioner Susan Steger "encouraged the city manager to be discouraging about the cruise ship" locating here.

Jacksonville city officials are expected to vote Jan. 27 on locating a new $60 million terminal in Mayport. The present cruise terminal on the St. Johns River will be part of Hanjin Shipping Co.'s new container terminal, requiring the move to be completed by mid-2010.

But the Mayport Civic Association on Monday rejected the terms of a proposed settlement offered by Jaxport to settle a lawsuit challenging construction of the cruise ship terminal in the historic fishing village.

The settlement was rejected because of unresolved concerns over shore power sources and compatibility with the village's shrimping and fishing industry, said Michelle Baldwin, president of the association.

"A terminal, with all its pollution, environmental damage, crime and Homeland Security issues, simply cannot be placed right in the middle of a residential neighborhood," Baldwin said.

The cruise industry has expanded in Jacksonville. Carnival Cruise Lines replaced the 1,486-passenger Celebration with the 2,052-passenger Fascination last year. A 2006 study determined the smaller ship's presence created 400 jobs and had a $40 million annual impact on Northeast Florida.

Reporters Angela Daughtry and Ryan Smith and Community Newspapers reporters in Jacksonville Beach contributed to this story.

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