Savannah targets cruises but withholds study

Savannah is looking to attract cruise ships to an undetermined location on its waterfront. A consultant has estimated the Georgia city could attract between 100,000 and 300,000 passengers a year depending on how much it invests in the industry. (AP/David Goldman/File)

David Goldman

A consultant’s report on three potential sites for a cruise ship terminal along the Savannah River has been given to city officials in Savannah, but they aren’t sharing it with residents.

The city is refusing to make the taxpayer-funded analysis public, The Savannah Morning News reported .

City officials say a provision in the Georgia’s open records law allows them to keep the report secret for now. The exemption pertains to potential land acquisitions.

A Savannah City Council workshop has been scheduled for June 25, and the study will be made public at that time, city spokesman Bret Bell.

The city council awarded Miami-based BEA Architects a contract to perform the study in September. It’s being divided into two phases, and the portion of the study recently given to city officials cost $197,500 to evaluate the sites.

The findings are necessary to obtain U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval and permits for construction. Results may eliminate certain sites or verify that all three sites, which have not been made public, could be used, the Savannah newspaper reported.

City Councilman Tom Bordeaux had cast the only vote against the study.

Bordeaux said he didn’t think spending millions of dollars on the terminal would be a good investment for the city, considering the amount of time cruise passengers would spend in Savannah.

Bordeaux said he also worried that the terminal would be abandoned if the industry experienced tough financial times, especially since Charleston and Jacksonville, Fla., already have cruise docks.

“Savannah would be the last in and first out,” Bordeaux told the newspaper.

A 2011 report from BEA Architects estimated that Savannah could attract 100,000 cruise visitors a year by investing $18 million, and 300,000 more if it spends another $50 million, though the latter projections have been disputed, the newspaper said.

In downtown Charleston, Carnival Cruise Lines has offered has offered regularly scheduled cruises almost year-round since 2010, when the company permanently based its 2,056-passenger ship Fantasy at a berth on Union Pier Terminal, near the City Market.

The arrival of that business has triggered a backlash among some downtown Charleston residents and preservation groups over the increased traffic congestion, noise and air pollution. Three cruise-related lawsuits are working their way through the court system.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.