For years, people coming into Charleston on cruise ships have gotten a less-than-impressive first impression of the city.

That's because the passenger terminal -- a rusty, outdated building with an institutional beige motif -- looks like a Third World airport.

You know, waterfront property is a terrible thing to waste, especially in a town with the most beautiful harbor on the East Coast.

So it's understandable that folks like John Crotts, a hospitality and tourism management professor at the College of Charleston, think it's great news that the State Ports Authority is moving forward with plans to redevelop its fantastic property at the foot of the City Market.

"It's been a long time coming," Crotts says. "That's a valuable piece of real estate being underutilized."

In 2004 Crotts was a member of the city's cruise-ship task force, which studied the industry's value to Charleston. The short answer: it's considerable.

And it's about to become even more valuable. On Thursday Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it will make Charleston the home port of its 2,000-passenger Fantasy next year.

After years of delays, there finally is a tangible reason to get that passenger terminal upgrade moving.

Let's hope no knuckleheads foul this up.

Love (that) boat

The politicians boast that Carnival's plans could mean a $70 million shot in the ol' economic arm for the state. They may not be far off.

There will be thousands of additional tourists moving through the city every week, and they are going to drop a few dollars on their way up the gangplank.

Many of them will stay overnight because of early boarding calls; they'll eat in restaurants, hit a few shops. Crotts says many of them will be first-time visitors who will return if they have a favorable impression of the city.

Plus, Charleston will get free advertising in Carnival brochures and catalogs, which is worth a pretty penny.

This is good news for everybody, at a time when we really need it.

On the waterfront

The timing of the Ports Authority's announcement this week was fortuitous. Although ports officials and Carnival say these two decisions are unrelated, that'll have to change at some point.

Although Carnival will probably find this to be a great location to base a cruise ship, no company is going move its customers through what looks like the set of "Escape from Alcatraz" for long.

If the state wants this to become the start of a beautiful friendship, it will move on the new terminal's construction sooner rather than later. And nobody should gripe about spending money in a year of budget shortfalls either.

This is not only a big part of Mayor Joe Riley's plan for a completely accessible waterfront between The Battery and the aquarium, this is going to help fix the local economy, boost a lot of local business.

So welcome to the big leagues of cruising, Charleston. Roll out the red carpet, and ditch the institutional beige.