Well, Carnival Cruise Lines has announced that it will sail away from San Diego in 2012 and may never return, and now there's little reason for that terminal to exist. And it's not like San Diego would be losing an aesthetic treasure if it were to vanish—it received an “onion” at the San Diego Architectural Foundation's Orchids and Onions Awards last year.
A quick history: In 2004, Carnival started pressuring the Port to fix up B Street Pier, which is where cruise ships mainly dock in San Diego, and later loaned the Port $8 million to help pay for it. In order to service cruise ships during renovations to B Street Pier, the Port had to put a terminal on Broadway Pier. A new structure would also serve as an overflow permanently when more than three ships were in town. It was originally going to be a big tent, but that plan was swapped out in favor of a $6-million prefab metal structure. The Port transferred much of the Carnival loan from B Street Pier to Broadway Pier and, in early 2007, got Carnival to up the amount to $12 million.
Later that year, Mayor Jerry Sanders and others decided that a big metal box would look nasty on the waterfront and pushed for what would eventually become a spiffy $21-million permanent building, and the Port capitulated. This, despite the fact that Carnival had already started talking to officials from the Port and the Mayor's office about a serious downturn in West Coast business and saying it didn't need Broadway Pier at all.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that a little more than three years later—and just weeks after company officials helped unveil the new building with much hoo-ha—Carnival announced that it will pull its operations out of San Diego by the spring of 2012.
Meanwhile, $650,000 has been spent so far on designs for the B Street Pier upgrades that Carnival asked for nearly seven years ago, but the Port has yet to identify financing for construction and has yet to fully pay Carnival back for its loan.
So, what's the score? The Port: Zero. The Public: Zero. The Port spent $15 million more on a building than it wanted to—one that was publicly ridiculed by architecture experts—and is now stuck with a permanent structure that blocks views of the bay instead of a prefab one that, presumably, could have been more easily dismantled. (Thanks, Mr. Mayor!) And for the time being, the Port has no money for the renovations that started this ball rolling in the first place. Meanwhile, instead of getting a grand public park in what could be an iconic intersection leading out to Broadway Pier, we get a smaller park just a little to the north, in the shadow of a new hotel—all because trucks need to get to a terminal that will be needed only between eight and 15 times in 2012 (figures that include the time when Carnival is still here).
Against this backdrop, a small army of San Diegans has for years been begging the Port to study the idea of moving cruise operations south to the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, which would connect cruise passengers geographically with the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Gaslamp Quarter and leave the North Embarcadero (from Seaport Village north to the airport) free and clear for public enjoyment.
We would make an impassioned plea for such a study if we thought it would do any good. It seems like an ideal time, given the major slowdown in cruise business and the uncertainty about the future. But the Port is actively trying to market San Diego to cruise companies to make up for lost business, and studying a major relocation would likely not make for a winning sales pitch.
In any case, we wish Port officials would take this time to stop, reassess the agency's priorities and reconnect with its role as guardian of the public's tidelands.
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