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    Charleston mayor: Cruise ships a 'natural' fit for port cities

    A cruise ship port would enhance tourism in an established visitor destination such as Savannah, Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley said Tuesday.

    Speaking at the Savannah Downtown Business Association's monthly luncheon at Ruth's Chris steakhouse, Riley said his city becoming a year-round home port for a cruise ship has "worked out very well" since Carnival stationed the Fantasy there in 2010.

    "For a port city to have a cruise ship port is a natural," Riley said. "There are some activities you can import that aren't natural, but people have been coming to Charleston on ships since it was founded."

    Charleston has welcomed cruise ships since 1973, two years before Riley began the first of his 10 terms as the city's mayor. Charleston served strictly as a seasonal port prior to the Carnival Fantasy's arrival two years ago.

    The city is building a new terminal, located up the Cooper River from the current home. The facility, expected to open next year, will include ample parking and cut down on traffic issues that plague downtown when the ship is in port, Riley said, yet still be close to Charleston's popular tourism sites.

    The new terminal site is seven blocks north of the Charleston City Market and adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium.

    Riley encouraged Savannah's leaders to learn from Charleston's recent experiences. He acknowledged the regular calls -- 91 in 2011 -- by the 2,675-passinger Carnival Fantasy have been met with some public angst. Many of those concerns will be addressed with the opening of the new terminal, Riley said.

    "Have parking and have a traffic plan" was Riley's advice.

    Riley emphasized that tourism as a whole should serve residents. Many port cities, like Charleston and Savannah, were built to be densely populated. As residents migrated out of city centers over time and downtowns became less dense, it opened up space for visitors.

    "Hotels and cruise ships and tours spit people out onto the streets who have disposable time and money in their pockets and improves livability for residents," Riley said. "But you have to be careful that tourism doesn't become a detriment to residents."

    Mayor Pro Tem Van Johnson, one of three aldermen to attend the luncheon along with Tony Thomas and Carol Bell, praised Riley for Charleston's success at balancing livability with tourism.

    "There are so many similarities between Savannah and Charleston," Johnson said. "We need to continue to engage with our sister city."

    By Adam Van Brimmer, Savannah Morning News, Ga.

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