By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Port of Seattle’s proposed cruise ship terminal, located on the waterfront in Pioneer Square, would draw several thousand people a week starting in 2023. The project has brought supporters and detractors alike.
The proposal seeks to develop a new cruise terminal at Terminal 46 that would double as a port for incoming cruise ships during the May-September cruise season, while continuing to support cargo and other marine operations during the off-season. Proposed work on the terminal is defined as “dockside-only,” which refers to necessary improvements to the existing dock terminal as well as overall building improvements.
The projected cost is $200 million with the Port assuming 50 percent cost-share, while its future partner would cover the remaining half. The Port released a Request for Proposal that is out for bid with three shortlisted teams. The winning team will be announced later this season.
Economic benefits and environmental concerns
From previous community meetings to op-eds printed in other local news publications, environmentalist groups and climate activists have criticized the new terminal with increased traffic and pollution among their chief concerns.
Supporters, however, view it as an economic stimulus for neighborhoods like Pioneer Square and the International District (ID).
With its proximity from the waterfront, the Port anticipates foot traffic and tourism would start in Pioneer Square and extend to the ID. From wineries to farms, regional businesses are also expected to benefit since the produce and goods served on the cruise ships would come from local suppliers.
The average cruise visitor spends more than $1,500 on local food, entertainment, and gifts. And with a cruise ship berthing approximately two times a week during cruise season, each ship visitation is estimated to bring $4.2 million to the local economy. The Port cited that the cruise industry generates $893.6 million for the local economy per season while producing 5,500 local jobs.
“Are we so affluent of a city that we’d turn our back on thousands of new jobs?” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck.
“The benefits go directly to the area,” he said. “Jobs, living wages, and small businesses—there’s enormous value here and that’s the core of why we’re considering a terminal at 46.”
With the environmental review currently underway, the Port does not have clear or immediate answers to the new terminal’s impact on the city. The study, which will be completed later this season, will analyze impact from traffic to air and water quality.
Port of Seattle Commission Secretary Sam Cho said that sustainable cruise practices, such as shore power, would be a priority for the proposed terminal.
Cho agreed that a cruise terminal wasn’t great for the environment but said that, in his opinion, if cruise ships come to Seattle, it’d allow the Port to enforce more eco-friendly practices that other cities may not consider or implement.
“The reality is that cruises aren’t going away — they’re just going to go somewhere else,” said Cho.
“And if the cruises go somewhere else, the fear of them becoming huge polluters comes true. But if the ships come here, we can regulate them and mitigate the impact.”
Impact on the International District
Since the ID has seen significant gentrification the last few years, there are still outstanding questions about the new terminal’s impact to the ID infrastructure.
There’s also limited awareness of the proposed cruise terminal in the neighborhood.
After connecting with the nonprofit Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (Chinatown-IDBIA), the Port’s outreach staff posted notices and mailed postcards in the ID and Pioneer Square during the scoping period.
Collateral was published in English, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish to increase awareness in both communities.
Once the current environmental review is done, the Port plans to do continued outreach as well as host an open panel where the public can comment on the draft environmental impact study.
Cho, who was sworn into office on Jan. 7 in English and Korean, hopes that his representation as the Port’s only minority commissioner will increase awareness about the proposed terminal. He encouraged the local API community to be proactive and cognizant about the new terminal’s environmental impact.
“The vast majority of people aren’t aware that this terminal is even happening,” said Cho.
“‘We’re often left out of the conversation’ —we say this all the time in the [API] community. If I hadn’t been talking about the cruise—if I wasn’t part of this discussion—I’m not sure how many people would be aware that this was happening to the district. I want to make sure there’s awareness and representation in the community … I want to make sure people have that voice.”
Steinbrueck also encouraged continued community engagement.
“We welcome comments, questions, and input to the [upcoming] draft environmental review,” said Steinbrueck. “We want to have an open and transparent review.”
For more information, visit https://www.portseattle.org/news/port-includes-more-environmental-benefits-updated-cruise-rfp.
Vivian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.