NEW ORLEANS - The thriving cruise business at the Port of New Orleans is boosting the city's economy, but there's one revenue stream port officials want to grow.
Parking fees, which come primarily from cruise passengers, totaled $4.2 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, about $560,000 short of port projections.
Port CEO Gary LaGrange said in March that port officials had noticed parking-fee revenue coming in under budget, and that more cruise passengers were seen hauling luggage through the Warehouse District to port terminals.
That led to the conclusion passengers are using commercial lots rather than port lots.
New Orleans CityBusiness reported the port relies on parking for about half of its cruise-related revenue.
Private lots charge $2 to $4 less per day than the port, which charges $16 daily. Over the course of a weeklong cruise, it can passengers nearly $30, though they have to move luggage for blocks to cruise terminals.
Port cruise and tourism director Robert Jumonville disputes the impact of competing lots.
"We love the other parking lots because to be frank, we'd be hard pressed to park all the passengers that come," Jumonville said.
Calls to private operators of lots near the cruise terminals were not returned.
Although parking fees account for just 5 percent of overall port revenue, they are used to pay off bond debt issued to build the $40 million Erato Street cruise terminal. The money is also designated for improvements to cruise facilities.
Parking revenue jumped in April when Carnival brought in the Dream cruise ship to replace the Sunshine. The Dream can carry 3,646 passengers - 800 more than Sunshine. Port officials said that means about 160 more vehicles to park each week.
Since the arrival of the Dream, port parking lots have been full, but fewer vehicles are anticipated once Royal Caribbean pulls its Serenade of the Seas next April. It carries 2,360 passengers on weekly cruises December through April, making 23 calls on the port last season.
Unlike some ports, which share parking revenue with cruise lines, the Port of New Orleans keeps 100 percent of parking fees from cruise passengers and considers the cash flow crucial to developing facilities.
Port officials are considering ways to increase revenue without raising prices. That could mean building more parking facilities.
The port is planning a $35 million cruise terminal at Poland Avenue, adding room to berth a fifth liner.
LaGrange said cruise lines won't commit to the port based on designs. The port must have firm commitments on new terminals such as at Poland Avenue for the companies to promise new ships.
The port currently is served by Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean. Between them, four ships dock at New Orleans.
Norwegian is in talks to renew its contract before Oct. 31, and Carnival recently signed a new lease that will keep two ships in New Orleans at current or higher passenger levels through 2019.