Terminal viewed as revenue generator

SAINT JOHN - The new cruise ship terminal will be one of the stars of Big Splash on the Waterfront. Tonight's event, an annual social evening put on by the Saint John Board of Trade, is one of the first major functions to be held in the new building.


Capt. Al Soppitt, left, president and CEO of the Saint John Port Authority, and Stephen Campbell, the port authority's chairman, stand inside the new cruise ship terminal. Big Splash on the Waterfront tonight will be one of the terminal's first major functions.


Capt. Al Soppitt, left, president and CEO of the Saint John Port Authority, and Stephen Campbell, the port authority's chairman, outside the new cruise ship terminal which welcomes its first passengers June 9.

As workers polished the floor and readied the hall for tonight, two of the men responsible for pushing the port forward stood in the main hall and imagined what it will look like when the first ship arrives.

"We're very interested in the first ship to see how the passenger flow works," said Capt. Al Soppitt, president and chief executive officer of the Saint John Port Authority.

"We'll be adjusting it throughout."

The Carnival Triumph arrives on June 9 with 3,200 passengers.

"We could have 5,000 people moving through here in one day," Soppitt said.

"We're starting to promote this site for various events."

The port authority's chairman, Stephen Campbell, agreed it's a people-moving facility, but the plans are for it to be much more.

"We want this to be a revenue generator," Campbell said. "This is a marquee facility for high-end conferences."

Tonight the facility will get its first real test as dignitaries gather for the Big Splash event. Premier Shawn Graham is the keynote speaker.

On the wall of a second-floor hallway, where the offices for the authority are housed, is an architect's drawing of the port from 1927. With railway lines snaking everywhere, it's a much different port compared to the port of today.

Cruise ships, which didn't exist when the drawing was penned, now make up 20 per cent of the port's business, second to potash shipments which account for 44 per cent.

"Cruise (business) was an accident that happened in 1986 after a hurricane," Campbell said, sitting in the second-floor boardroom.

The ship was diverted to Saint John and the business has now grown to the point where 200,000 cruise ship passengers will visit Saint John this year.

With approximately $20 million spent on improvements to the infrastructure out of the authority's own pocket, Campbell believes it's time for others to come forward.

"We're the fourth-biggest cruise destination in Canada," he said.

And while Campbell is happy the premier will be attending, he's going to have a matter-of-fact message for Graham - use it or lose it. And if people don't think it's appropriate, Campbell isn't about to apologize, at least not until he gets a cheque.

"Too bad, I'm going to keep bringing it up," Campbell said.

The port has applied for $42 million under a one-third funding program from the province and the federal government.

The authority's board has approved its third of the $42 million but is still waiting for confirmation from Ottawa and Fredericton that the rest of the funding's coming.

"We've put our money where our mouth is," Campbell said.

It's time, he said, for the province and the federal government to loosen the purse strings.

"It can go to the next level, but we can't do it ourselves."

Source: Published Friday May 22nd, 2009 - Telegraph Journal