Consultant Favors Cruise Ship For Gulfport

Flip through a cruise brochure and you'll find all sorts of trips that sail from cities like Miami, New Orleans, and Galveston. Someday soon, Lori Baer believes trips from Gulfport will also be on that list.

The consultant said the Port of Gulfport "is my favorite client. And I think this is a solid winner."

Baer's agency hosted this cruise ship workshop. The Florida based consulting company was hired by the Port of Gulfport to analyze whether South Mississippi can lure cruise ships to its docks. According to Baer, "It has all of the elements to be successful."

The optimism Baer expressed during her one hour presentation had coast leaders more committed than ever to the cruise ship concept.  Joe Feil of the Gulf Coast Attractions Association said, "I'm 100 percent convinced. It's going to happen. It's definitely going to happen."

Prior to that, Cruise Ship Task Force member Al Hopkins stood in front of those gathered at the workshop and said, "This is an important day. It's an exciting day. And it's going to happen because of what's going on in this room."

The Port of Gulfport proved 13 months ago that it does have the facilities to handle a cruise ship for a one time only visit. Now, port commissioners are in the process of redesigning their piers, so cruise ships and cargo ships can sail in and out of here 365 days a year.

"A lot of things need to be done," port director Gary LaGrange said.  "But nothing that is insurmountable, and nothing we can't do."

If a cruise line chooses to dock its ship in Gulfport, it would take about two years for that ship to arrive here. When a cruise company will add Gulfport to its itinerary is not known. The consultants believe it should be sooner than later.

A coast delegation will be in Florida next month to meet with representatives of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. That meeting is supposed to give the coast unprecedented access to cruise ship companies.

To help the Port of Gulfport handle cruise ships, cargo ships, and casinos, construction is about to begin on a 60-acre addition to the west pier. That'll be where the bulk of its cargo businesses move.

Port commissioners are also working with the Copa Casino to find a new place for it to operate. The consultants think the present Copa dock would make a great spot for a cruise ship terminal.