Carnival Cruise Line will make Union Pier home to a new ship beginning in May, and if the State Ports Authority gets its way, the company will be calling Charleston home for decades to come.
“We’ve made an offer to Carnival for a long-term contract to keep them here for 25 years or so, and that’s the key to keeping them permanently,” said Jim Newsome, the maritime agency’s president and CEO.
Negotiations are continuing, but a deal could be reached by the time Carnival Sunshine pulls into Charleston Harbor this spring for its next assignment. It will be the third pleasure ship to offer year-round sailings — following the Fantasy and Ecstasy — since Carnival started calling Charleston a home port in 2010.
Carnival and other cruise lines brought 225,483 passengers through the Holy City during the SPA’s most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30. That’s 19.3 percent more than in fiscal 2015.
“They’re very successful here,” Newsome said. “We love them as a customer. They are very collaborative and they are important to our financials. We want to keep them for the long term.”
Cruise ships account for about 5 percent of the authority’s operating revenues, or roughly $12.5 million annually.
A multi-decade deal with Carnival would help open another possibility: The sale of about two-thirds of Union Pier — roughly 40 acres of property overlooking Charleston Harbor — to private developers.
While the per-acre price would depend on what the city’s zoning allows, a commercial real estate agent told The Post and Courier it would be “truly incredible” and a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The authority got $38 million from Lowe Enterprises for its 6.5-acre former headquarters site just south of Union Pier. Lowe plans to build a luxury hotel on the property.
“There’s probably not a day I don’t think about that,” Newsome said of a Union Pier sale.”I’m not sure the real estate market is going to get much better than it is today, so I think the timing from my perspective is sooner rather than later.”
The authority has been looking to sell off unneeded land to help pay for a new container terminal and buy new cranes and other equipment to handle big cargo ships traveling to the East Coast through the expanded Panama Canal.
However, a Union Pier sale could hinge on the outcome of a pair of lawsuits filed by opponents of the authority’s plan to build a new cruise ship terminal just north of the existing one.
Opponents say they’re not opposed to the cruise industry, but a terminal so close to the downtown Historic District would hurt property values and create too much traffic congestion and pollution. A federal case was sent back to the Army Corps of Engineers for further review while another action is before the S.C. Supreme Court.
Review and repeat
A request by Volvo Cars for a tariff exemption is slowly moving through the U.S. Trade Representative‘s review process.
That’s according to a database of nearly 10,000 exemption requests the federal agency has received since President Donald Trump slapped penalty duties on Chinese-made goods.
According to the database, Volvo’s request has moved beyond the public comment period to the initial substantive review phase. If it makes it past that round, it will enter another review process and then — if granted — publication in the Federal Register.
Volvo is asking for an exemption for mid-size SUVs it imports to the United States from China.
Earlier this month, the trade office issued about 1,000 exemptions from the first round of tariffs that were enacted in July. Other big South Carolina manufacturers that asked for tariff relief are also moving through the process.
Army Corps accolades
The biggest dredging project in Army Corps of Engineers history is among the Charleston District’s list of top accomplishments for 2018, according to the regulatory agency’s Facebook page.
The $278 million contract — part of a $558 million Charleston Harbor deepening project — was for removal of nearly 8 million cubic yards of material from the waterway’s inner channel.
Other highlights for the local office: 968 regulatory permits issued; the start of construction on a 149,210-square-foot visiting quarters at Joint Base Charleston; and 30,000 sandbags filled during Hurricane Florence.
Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_