Port of Miami plans for new passenger terminals
By Scott Blake
Port of Miami officials are floating plans to spend several hundred million dollars on cruise terminal and related upgrades over the next 25 years to accommodate what they project as a 44% increase in cruise passengers at the county-owned seaport.
The conceptual proposals are contained in the new Port of Miami Master Plan, which projects that Miami-Dade's seaport will draw 5.9 million cruise passengers by 2035, up from 4.1 million this year — an annual growth rate of 1.8%. The passenger counts are totals for both boardings and disembarkations.
Forecasting continued growth in the size of cruise ships, with the latest vessels being up to 1,300 feet long and holding up to 5,400 passengers, the master plan calls for port facility improvements to accommodate the super-sized vessels.
Based largely on the popularity of its Caribbean cruises, the Port of Miami has ranked at the top of the world's busiest cruise ports. Currently, the cruise industry generates about $60 million a year in revenue for county coffers.
During a presentation on the master plan last week, Port of Miami Director Bill Johnson emphasized that public-private partnerships will be needed to provide the political support and to help with the financing needed to accomplish the seaport's growth plans.
"The last thing the port needs is to raise its rates for cruise and cargo [companies] to pay for these projects," Mr. Johnson told an audience of more than 200 at the seaport's Cruise Terminal J. "We could put ourselves out of business that way."
Currently, three leading cruise lines — Carnival Corp. (principal Miami brand — Carnival Cruise Line), Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises), and Norwegian Cruise Line — account for the bulk of passenger traffic in Miami.
According to Fort Lauderdale-based Cruise Lines International Association, a wide variety of ship sizes is being turned out by the industry, from Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas (with a 5,400-passenger double-occupancy capacity) to smaller vessels designed for as few as 200 people.
Still, the monster-size ships — offering new-fangled amenities — capture the most public interest. The sheer size of Oasis of the Seas led to it being named the most exciting cruise ship innovation last year, according to the Cruise Holidays Trends Survey.
The second- and third-place innovations, the survey found, were from the same ship's AquaTheater, a water-themed amphitheater with high-diving shows, and its Central Park open-air "neighborhood."
To maintain Miami's leadership position in the North American cruise market into the future, the master plan calls for a shift in the way the county handles its cruise expenditures, suggesting more planning of project finances in advance, based on anticipated needs and trends.
The past method of spending on improvements as the need arose has left the port with cruise facilities built in the mid-1990s, designed for the past generation cruise ships, that are now "out the place," the report concludes.
The plan does not address specific funding methods, but rather was designed as a "visionary" framework as "a baseline for growth and improvement," the report states, with specific development still driven by the ongoing needs of businesses using the port.
For the short term, the plan calls for $241 million in cruise facility upgrades to help accommodate the next, larger generation of cruise ships.
For the entire term of the plan, a "terminal complex" approach — linking or combining various terminals and berths — is noted as a more efficient way to handle increased cruise passenger traffic.
"The next generation terminal complex at the port would provide for the consolidation of services allowing for better management of operations and security where passengers would then move to individual halls from a series of main entryways and corridors for check-in processing," the report states.
In addition, the plan calls for the extension of one of the port's current cruise vessel berths, plus the addition of three 1,200-foot berths.
Also for the long term, the plan calls for a "multi-modal center" with up to seven floors to serve as a transportation hub for the port. The building could include parking, terminal access, hotel, retail and entertainment space.
To help link the terminal system, the plan calls for a new baggage-handling and screening system, with an air-conditioned walkway stretching up to 1,400 feet for passengers.
"The use of a terminal complex, instead of the traditional approach of one berth/one terminal, saves substantial real estate utilization at the port," the plan states, "and lessens the overall impact on cargo operations."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.