Union Pier is likely to be in the headlines during the coming year thanks to a court decision, a probable deal with Carnival Cruise Line and plans to sell a part of the prime waterfront site.
Carnival, which bases its Sunshine pleasure ship at Union Pier, is close to signing a contract that would keep the cruise line sailing from the downtown Charleston terminal for at least another 20 years, according to Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, which owns and operates the Port of Charleston.
“My understanding is they love this market, they’re very successful in this market and the Sunshine has been a big hit for them,” Newsome told The Post and Courier last week. He added a long-term contract could be announced early this year.
Such a deal would not be dependent on the development of a new passenger terminal at the pier, something the authority has been trying to build ever since Carnival moved to Charleston a decade ago. The authority, in fact, still owns the unionpierplan.com web address it registered in 2009 to highlight the terminal proposal, although the address currently links to the SPA’s home page.
The construction has been delayed by a pair of lawsuits filed on behalf of environmental and preservation groups, which say the planned new terminal would lead to increased pollution, noise and congestion near the city’s Historic District. The S.C. Supreme Court heard arguments in one of those cases in June and is expected to rule this year. A separate federal lawsuit is pending, with no decision imminent.
The Port of Charleston will see nearly twice the number of pleasure ships staying at Union Pier Terminal overnight in 2020 so passengers can have dinner and explore late-night activities on the peninsula.
In the meantime, the Sunshine and other cruise ships dock at the current 1970s-era terminal brought a single-month record of 33,316 passengers through Charleston in November.
Even as the legal battles continue, the ports authority plans to start the process of selling off 63 acres of Union Pier to a private developer.
The property — about 25 acres of it developable, the rest is made up of wetlands — is between where the new terminal would be developed and where Los Angeles real estate firm Lowe is building a 225-room hotel adjacent to the city’s Waterfront Park.
It won’t be a quick sale. Newsome said the authority will hire a land planning firm to study potential uses for the property and work with the city and regulatory agencies on entitlement to determine the best development for the site. That process could take up to three years, he said.
Real estate analysts have said the property likely will be developed into a mix of office, retail, residential and commercial uses. It will probably include public access to the water, similar to what Lowe is doing at its hotel site.
By David Wren, Post and Courier
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