Port Canaveral Continues Making Waves

by Stan Payne

In FY 2011-12, Port Canaveral became the second busiest cruise port in the world by recording more than 3.7 million passengers.  That accomplishment reflects the hard work of thousands of people – from Port and cruise line employees to our partners in the business and tourism communities.

With such success, one would think that operations at Port Canaveral simply could be put on “cruise control,” but that would be a mistake.  Looking ahead, this year holds the prospect for even greater accomplishments if we continue to innovate and strive to do more in all our business sectors.

The Canaveral Port Authority Board of Directors has set the tone to help us achieve even greater successes by making expansion of the Port’s non-cruise segments, including cargo and real estate, one of our top priorities.  Additionally, the board is pushing to improve and expand the Port’s accountability and public outreach.  We must be responsive to our constituents and tap into the vast experiences and expertise our business partners and community members offer.

Now Appearing and Soon to Come

The most visible example of the Port’s ambitions is the majestic seven-story Welcome Center currently under construction and set to open in July.  The center is part of an extensive, multi-phase development of The Cove, a 40-acre site in the heart of the Port.  The 22,000-square-foot, $21 million center will feature indoor and outdoor observation decks, exhibit space on four floors, event venues, an auditorium, gift shop and café.

To the west of the center, plans could include a linear greenway, surrounded by retail and dining venues, blending seamlessly into the beautiful view of cruise ships at dock across the Port channel.  To the east of the center there will be a signature lake and a 5,000-seat amphitheatre for outdoor entertainment events by the fall of 2013.

Ultimately, The Cove development could add up to a half-million square feet of leasable office, restaurant and retail space, providing opportunities for new businesses to open in a dynamic, unique environment.  The Cove development, driven in part by public input from two community workshops, will create plentiful opportunities for boosting overnight visitors to the area by offering more restaurants, shops and all the attendant services that go along with a true tourist destination, such as taxi services, car rentals, tour guide services and more.

Not Just Tourism

The promise of growth and expansion is just as exciting for the Port’s cargo business.  Significant growth is expected in shipments of petroleum, building materials, fertilizer, automobiles and fresh produce in the coming fiscal year.

Our cargo business is a strong barometer of the region’s economic health overall.  So as the country continues its climb out of a historic recession, we expect to see corresponding increases in cargo.  For example, last year, the movement of cargo and other building supplies added up to a paltry 4,500 tons.  The Port expects to see from 50,000 to 100,000 tons of those supplies by the end of the current fiscal year.

We also are taking steps to grow our cargo business in the years ahead.  The Port will spend $32 million to widen and deepen the main shipping channel starting in July to accommodate larger cargo and cruise vessels.  The project will widen the Port’s 400-foot-wide channel by 100 feet and deepen it by 2 feet along the entire 3.5-mile length.

Renovations to our south cargo piers are complete and two new cargo berths on the north side will become operational this year.  If cargo and cruise business increases as predicted, these projects and related developments could generate nearly 3,500 permanent jobs for Brevard County.

Why We’re #2 Worldwide

We have continued to experience phenomenal growth and success as a cruise port.  In fall 2012, the Port opened a new $60 million, 108,000-square-foot port terminal complex.  The primary user of the new facility is Carnival Cruise Lines, which expects to carry 800,000 passengers on three of its premier ships from Port Canaveral this year.

Royal Caribbean is home porting Enchantment of the Seas in Port Canaveral in 2013 to operate 3- and 4-night cruises to the Bahamas.  Disney Cruise Line’s twin flagships, the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy, will continue to sail from the Port, and we are eagerly awaiting the addition of the Disney Magic in 2014.

A growing aspect of the cruise segment is port-of-call ship visits — visits from ships that don’t call Port Canaveral home.  In 2012, that number reached 123, and it is expected to increase.  This, too, will help boost tourism and business on the Space Coast.

Clearly, all the ingredients are here in 2013 for us to shine as never before.  In October, the eyes of the world will focus on Port Canaveral when it hosts the American Association of Port Authorities annual international convention and exposition.  Port Canaveral will be center stage among the world’s biggest players in shipping, and you can bet we will be ready to impress.

Stan Payne is CEO of Port Canaveral, an Investor of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.