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By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves port director and CEO
The cruise industry’s robust growth at the Port of Galveston is helping us invest in infrastructure to fully optimize this regional economic engine. The 2023 budget adopted by the Galveston Wharves Board in October 2022 forecasts $58 million in gross operating revenues, a new record for our self-funding operation.
Our cruise business, which accounts for more than half of our total revenues, is booming with the opening of a third cruise terminal, ships sailing at full capacity and a record number of 354 sailings scheduled this year.
Increased revenues allow our port to budget millions of dollars for long-deferred, major maintenance projects, as well as capital improvement projects to generate more jobs, revenues and regional economic growth. Our 2023 budget includes repair projects at piers 19, 28, 39-40 and 41 and two slip fills to expand the West Port Cargo Complex.
These maintenance and capital projects are included in the port’s 20-Year Strategic Master Plan, the port’s roadmap to maximize assets and grow our business. Based on extensive research and industry expertise, this plan prioritizes more than $600 million in major maintenance and capital projects. We’ll fund this major work with a combination of port revenues, grants, private partnerships and a line of credit.
OUR TOP LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY
During this session of the Texas legislature, our top priority is to secure state-allocated federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to reimburse the port for $44 million in losses incurred when cruises were suspended for 15 months due to the CDC no-sail order. Other ports across the nation have received millions of dollars in ARPA funds through their states. We hope to secure these funds to pay for our waterfront improvements and repairs.
CRITICAL WATERFRONT REPAIRS
As a result of long-delayed maintenance on the waterfront, seven of the 17 berths west of Pier 28 are unusable. We’ve got to get these berths back in operation for our cargo and lay ship businesses. We’re addressing some of these needs this year.
Our capital improvements plan includes $600,000 to replace pilings at Pier 19, a popular commercial area and home to private fishing charter boats and shrimp boats. We also have plans to spend $1 million on dock repairs at Cruise Terminal 28.
MAJOR CARGO EXPANSION
The master plan envisions an expanded West End Cargo Complex that consolidates major cargo operations nearer Interstate 45 and away from downtown Galveston. We moved cargo operations from the east end of the port more than a year ago to make way for Cruise Terminal 10 construction.
Now, we’re ready to tackle improvements to expand the complex to handle more cargo most efficiently. We plan to fund the projects with a combination of port reserves, a line of credit and a low-interest federal loan.
Filling the decades-old Slip 38 will gain us valuable acreage within the complex. The $25 million project will be funded from port revenues and other sources. The improvement plan also includes $24 million to install a new bulkhead at Pier 39-40 and $30 million to fill Slip 40-41, extend a rail spur to the waterfront and make other improvements.
The biggest challenge is funding. As you can see, waterfront projects are expensive. Our port staff continues to pursue state and federal grants and other funding sources to make our port the best it can be.