It’s Time to Rethink a Mayport Cruise Terminal
JaxPort has said it’s time to reconsider the cruise terminal in Mayport, along with two other undisclosed locations. If Jacksonville is serious about being a cruise homeport, then they are certainly right.
Port authorities say that Charleston’s recent deal with Carnival, and Savannah’s pronouncement that it was forming a task force to explore the possibility of a cruise terminal a couple of hours north of Jacksonville, were not the deciding factors in the timing of reopening the discussion. Fair enough, though it’s impossible to believe that they aren’t at least looking over their shoulders at the potential competition from cities to the North of us, and they have said the competition has always been there.
While the Port Authority says they are considering locations other than the Mayport property they already own, it seems that it would make the most sense to make that the first best option. Obviously, the concerns of the people living in Mayport are going to have to be considered in any cruise terminal plans. But it’s time for everyone to negotiate in good faith and be ready to go, because the cruise lines aren’t going to sit around and wait while Jacksonville dithers around trying to make up its mind what it’s going to do. If Savannah is ready, and Carnival, or some other cruise line is ready, they’ll make a deal and JaxPort is going to be sitting on some pricey (in normal times) riverfront property with nothing to do with it.
I’m still one of those who believes that the cruise industry would be a boon to Mayport. For businesses to thrive, there have to be customers, and for customers to come to the Mayport area, there needs to be a reason to be there. If, for instance, shops and restaurants were to open to take advantage the flow of people coming to board cruise ships, it might also attract local folks looking for someplace to have lunch overlooking the river … something in woefully short supply right now. The amount of money that would be invested in Mayport to build the cruise terminal to make the needed infrastructure improvements could not but help the area financially, but would also hopefully make the area more attractive. And if you’ve been to Mayport recently, you know that there are large areas of what can only be described as blight with pockets that represent what the area might be able to be. Safe Harbor Seafood, with its outdoor dining and thriving fresh fish market is one such example, and of course Stricklands will continue to be an institution. Jacksonville Marina, which is undergoing a renovation, will hopefully start attracting boaters back to Mayport. It had fallen into such disrepair that many had left as the economy soured. But new docks and improved facilities will perhaps make the marina thrive again.
New fishing rules may make that a more difficult proposition, but that’s a subject for another day.
The Mayport Waterfront Association has said it is willing to talk with JaxPort again about the cruise terminal. The town needs something to sustain it. Suncruise suspended operations at Mayport and other ports in December with no explanation, and the shrimping industry, while holding on, is struggling.
The Ports Authority already owns the land it needs to make the new cruise terminal in Mayport a reality. It says it is considering two other sites that would also allow larger ships to call in Jacksonville, but has not said what those sites are. It has also said it favors an “open and transparent” dialog. The current cruise terminal is slated for demolition to make way for the Hanjin cargo terminal, and that’s always been part of the plan. If Jacksonville wants to stay in the cruise business, we’re going to have to show the cruise lines that we’re serious about it. With the ships sailing from here booked to over capacity, albeit often due to deep discounts to fill the staterooms, there is good reason to think that we can have a thriving cruise industry here in Jacksonville. But if the city doesn’t take it seriously, the cruise lines will go someplace where they are.
It’s a competition we’d be wise to play to win.