Cruise ships are shown here docking at Terminal 91 in Smith Cove in this photo from the Port of Seattle. Port officials plan to double the economic impact of the cruise ship industry on the local economy during the next 25 years. The cruise ship industry is expected to generate an economic impact in 2012 of about $416 million.
Photo courtesy of Don Wilson at the Port of Seattle

Cruise ships are shown here docking at Terminal 91 in Smith Cove in this photo from the Port of Seattle. Port officials plan to double the economic impact of the cruise ship industry on the local economy during the next 25 years. The cruise ship industry is expected to generate an economic impact in 2012 of about $416 million.

Photo courtesy of Don Wilson at the Port of Seattle

   This summer, Disney will dock the very happy 2,400-passenger Disney Wonder at Terminal 91 at Smith Cove.

   While the stay is only for one year, the Disney cruise liner is expected to bring a little more cheer to the area’s booming cruise business. After all, how can anyone stay grumpy when the ship plays “When You Wish Upon a Star” as it leaves port?

   With Disney coming on board, Seattle will be the Northwest home to seven major cruise ship lines. Port officials say they expect 202 cruise ship visits and more than 864,000 passengers to pass through Seattle’s cruise ship terminals in 2012. This activity will generate an estimated $416 million in annual business revenue, create 4,319 jobs and result in $18 million in state and local taxes this year. Port estimates ate that every time a cruise ship comes to Seattle, it generates $2.1 million in economic benefit to the community.

   Disney is heading north next year, moving its cruise line to Canada. However, Port officials still expect the business to continue to grow in the coming years. They may even be able to woo Disney back to Seattle.

   Port Commissioners Tom Albro and John Creighton told members of the Magnolia Community Club on March 8 that the Port of Seattle’s proposed 25-year plan calls for doubling the economic value of cruise traffic to Washington state.

   Albro said that the local cruise industry, the majority of which travels through Terminal 91 at Magnolia’s Smith Cove, is not far from reaching capacity concerning the number of sailings Seattle facilities can accommodate.

   He said the plan is to increase cruise ship visits and also try to get passengers to spend more time in the Seattle area, either before or after their cruise. He said that an immediate focus is to get passengers to spend an extra $200 per trip.

“We can get there quickly,” Albro said. “If a passenger spends one night in downtown and eats a meal, we’d be pretty much there.”

   The increased economic impact of the cruise industry is only one aspect of a comprehensive plan that Albro and Creighton discussed with the public who attended the meeting. Creighton told the audience that during the next quarter century, the Port of Seattle aims to add 100,000 jobs to the region, resulting in the Port being directly responsible for about 300,000 jobs in the area. 

   “We have created a road map of where we want to go, but it remains flexible enough to accommodate changes on how we will get there,” Creighton said.

   Beyond the cruise ship industry, the Port plans to reach its goal by growing Seattle’s container volume, tripling the value of outbound sea and air cargo to more than $50 billion a year, promoting the growth of small businesses, increasing workforce training and by being the greenest and most energy-efficient port in North America.

   As for the Port’s land in the Interbay area, Albro and Creighton said that Fisherman’s Terminal would remain an important part of the Port’s plans. Creighton did acknowledge that maintaining the buildings at Fisherman’s Terminal actually costs the Port money each year, but it remains a community benefit that the Port will continue to support.

   “We are absolutely committed to maintaining the fishing fleet for the North Pacific at Fisherman’s Terminal,” Creighton said. 

   But despite the rosy forecast, the first audience question was a pointed inquiry as to how the Port of Seattle lost to Tacoma the major cargo account known as the “Grand Alliance,” a consortium of three cargo companies that account for an estimated 20 percent of the Port’s container traffic. The consortium, which includes Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd, Japan’s NYK Line and OOCL of Hong Kong, announced they plan to move their operation to Tacoma later this year.

In short, Creighton said it was a financial issue and the Port of Tacoma was simply willing to offer greater discounts than Seattle.

   “We competed and they wanted it more,” Albro said of the Port of Tacoma. “Tacoma has had some tough losses recently, including the Russell Company, which moved to Seattle. They were willing to go further and cut deeper than we could.”

   Creighton criticized the system that   currently forces the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to compete against each other for business, instead of working together to bring new business to the state.

Creighton and Albro said a bigger concern for the Port should be the new Canadian Port at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. They said the Canadian government has invested about $3 billion in the new facility and it has a rail line that travels directly to Chicago. Other concerns include the widening of the Panama Canal, which will mean more cargo ships traveling through the canal to the Eastern Seaboard.

   On other topics, Albro said that the Port wants to develop for industrial purposes the 44 acres of land it owns in the Interbay area. 

Currently, the land is used for parking school buses and other vehicles. However, for that to occur, the property requires better access to Thorndyke Avenue West, which has been a contentious issue for area neighbors in the past.