Savannah’s savvy cruise course
Savannah abandoned its plans for a cruise ship terminal this week over the very concerns that neighbors of Charleston’s port, environmentalists and preservationists have with the industry here.
The difference is that Savannah City Council studied the idea for four years, analyzed its potential and decided it wasn’t a good investment gamble.
Indeed, Savannah spent $327,000 on two reports. The more citizens learned, the louder they protested.
Like Charleston, Savannah’s important tourist industry centers on its historic district. Preservationists studied how cruises and the crowds of passengers they carry have played havoc with Venice and other historic port cities.
Conservationists warned of the health hazards of toxic emissions from ships idling at dock. Council member Carol Bell wasn’t convinced that the business case for investing in a cruise terminal was sound.
In the end, Savannah City Council voted unanimously to withhold further funding for studying the project, essentially killing it altogether.
In contrast, Charleston City Council has been supportive of Carnival Cruise Lines using Charleston as a home port for the Fantasy. Even when petitioned by citizens not to eliminate cruises but to impose some reasonable, enforceable restrictions to the size and number of cruise ships coming here, council refused.
The Charleston and South Carolina medical societies have both sounding warnings about health hazards posed by cruise ship emissions, and have advocated for shoreside power to minimize them. The S.C. State Ports Authority has rejected the idea.
The Historic Charleston Foundation paid for a comprehensive analysis of the cruise industry that found the actual financial impact of cruise passengers in Charleston is far less than projections the SPA has released.
Cruisers tend to drive here and board. They take their meals on the ship. And when they return, they tend to get in their cars and go home, rather than stay a few extra days in Charleston.
Similarly, a retired economics professor in Savannah analyzed the marketing study produced for council. He found it unrealistically rosy and noted that it lacked references or empirical support.
And a grassroots group called Be Smart Savannah has been warning people about other cities facing financial woes after being abandoned by cruise lines. This week, Carnival announced it will no longer use Norfolk as a home port. And it left Mobile after a cruise terminal was built for it.
Of the 10 people who addressed Savannah’s council on the issue, only one was supportive of the terminal, and he represented a company with a financial interest in one of three possible terminal sites.
As in Charleston, there has been controversy in Savannah over the best place for a cruise terminal.
The sister cities’ cruise-related issues are very much alike.
The major difference is that Savannah City Council studied, listened, learned and decided it was the wrong move.