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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jacksonville Port Authority Renews Effort to Keep Carnival Cruise Lines

Financial News & Daily Record

A year after backing away from a deal to bring a cruise ship terminal to Mayport, the Jacksonville Port Authority has launched its search for a permanent home for Carnival Cruise Lines in Jacksonville.

Port Authority CEO Rick Ferrin addressed the Seaport-Airport Special Committee Tuesday and updated it on the authority’s progress with the cruise terminal.

“Carnival remains bullish on Jacksonville,” said Ferrin. “They have weathered the storm of the current economy because families know they are a good value and there is stability there.”

The Port Authority’s temporary cruise facility is at Dames Point, bordered by Heckscher Drive and State Road 9A. The Port Authority has been working with Carnival to develop a permanent cruise ship terminal that would allow the company to increase the number of ships it can dock in Jacksonville.

The authority has a list of about 20 sites that it will review and plans to present options to its board of directors in 60 to 90 days so it can make a presentation to Carnival concerning cruises departing from Jacksonville.

By designating a site, it can then determine how much the project will cost and what kind of commitment it will need from Carnival.

“We believe they would be willing to give us a 10-year commitment to stay in Jacksonville, which shows their desire to be in Jacksonville. Normally, agreements are year-to-year or, at best, five years,” Ferrin said.

The Port Authority will use three initial criteria for assessing potential locations for Carnival Cruises: it must be east of the Dames Point Bridge because of the height of the boats, which prevent them from traveling under the structure; the site must have 1,200 feet of wharf space; and the property must be owned by the Port Authority or by a willing seller.

What has changed since the Port proposed a terminal in Mayport?

The ability to access credit to build the project.

“We didn’t know the durability to endure the economy nor did we have the ability to borrow money,” said Ferrin. “Borrowing money was expensive because you had such a tightening of credit. Both of those things have eased considerably. We think by the time we needed to borrow money we could probably borrow it at a percentage that we could afford.”

Committee Chair Daniel Davis liked what he was hearing from Ferrin’s report.

“Through this process, I think you will see a lot of win-win situations for the community, the city and the port,” said Davis.

The committee is charged with helping the Port Authority and Jacksonville Aviation Authority find and secure the resources needed to accommodate the city’s growing seaport business and the economic development opportunities at Cecil Field; identifying potential state and federal funding sources for these improvements; and acting as the liaison with local, state and federal officials to help prioritize infrastructure projects and assist with funding sources that stimulate economic development.