With its announcement last week that a fifth cruise line is coming, the Tampa Port Authority is poised to pass the 1 million annual passenger mark for the first time.
That is certainly good news not only for the port but also for the attractions, hotels and restaurants that benefit from a robust cruise business. It can only boost the Port Authority’s efforts to attract developers who might be interested in breathing new life into the port’s ghostly Channelside Bay Plaza retail complex.
AIDA Cruises plans to bring a 1,266-passenger ship to the Tampa Port beginning in December 2014 and follow that in 2015 with a 2,194-passenger ship. The ships will cruise to Western Caribbean ports of call. The smaller ship will make four cruises a year and the larger ship seven cruises a year.
AIDA, which is based in Germany, now joins Carnival, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian with cruise lines in Tampa’s port, which is growing but still remains far behind the state’s east coast ports, which can accommodate the large cruise ships that can’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway.
Still, Paul Anderson, the Tampa Port Authority’s chief executive, called the new line a milestone. And it comes on the heels of the announcement in August that Royal Caribbean will add a second ship in Tampa for Western Caribbean cruises next year.
As the Tribune’s Ted Jackovics reports, the extra cruises are certain to add to the record 974,000 passengers counted last year.
The added cruise traffic is another sign the Channel District is coming to life. The Port Authority is also working on a $6 million deal to take control of Channelside Bay Plaza, which now sits more than 50 percent vacant. Once it has control, it will seek ideas from developers on how to maximize the potential.
Expanding the cruise lines is another positive step toward revitalizing this key downtown area.