Cruise Ship Terminal Finances Terrified Port Director

How's that penciling out?
The news that the city's nascent cruise ship terminal could well lose the city boatloads of money is disturbing -- but hardly unanticipated.

Last year, SF Weekly obtained a January 2012 e-mail from Port of San Francisco Director Monique Moyer to members of her staff lamenting the proposed cruise ship terminal's financial baggage:

"I just don't see how we can commit the Port to financial instability by committing to these obligations. Frankly, the cruise terminal isn't worth the risk. ... Sorry to be the 'Debbie Downer' on this, but I spent a sleepless night and I came to the conclusion that I can't be the one who does this to the Port."

See Also: America's Cup Sailor Refers to Boats as 'Godforsaken Deathtraps'

These concerns were brushed aside; the terminal, resembling a mid-1960s Cal State lecture hall, now sits at the bay's edge. Erecting the costly facility was deeply tied into the city's rollout to lure the America's Cup to San Francisco.

Well, mission accomplished.

Sadly, just about every element connected with the America's Cup has experienced whatever is the opposite of the Midas Touch. The 17-odd teams race proponents said would set up shop in town and start spending wildly have been whittled down to four. The promised economic impact has withered. Rather than flood the city's coffers, the plan is now to subsidize the event -- with general fund money -- in hopes of breaking even after all the tax returns are tabulated. On the water, meanwhile, the magnificent AC72 catamarans have proven to be difficult to handle even for elite crews -- and crash-prone. Capping it off, last week Team Artemis' boat broke up in routine San Francisco conditions, killing sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson -- and tossing the entire event into uncertainty.

So the cruise ship terminal potentially being an albatross for the city fits right into the pattern, unfortunately. As noted in today's Examiner article, some $54 million in bonds went into this structure. But that's just for starters. The price tag was pegged at $92 million when construction was undertaken -- a huge spike from a $60 million estimate produced as recently as 2009. Also, constructing the facility on the waterfront will require some $40 million in mitigation projects at the behest of the state's Bay Conservation and Development Commission. That was the impetus for Moyer's impassioned e-mail.

"I have thought about it and I can't see ... how I can commit the Port not only to prioritizing these items ahead of everything else, but also mortgaging itself to pay for it all," Moyer continued in that Jan. 5, 2012 communique.

There was a reason the cruise ship terminal remained on the drawing board for so many years: It's prohibitively expensive and, as today's Ex article indicates, the prospect of assuredly making that money back is no slam dunk.

The intertwining of this project with the America's Cup forced the city's hand, however. If the more optimistic projections work out, the terminal may well end up being one of the Cup's happier legacies in this city. But if it does indeed turn into a money pit, it will be one more reminder of the race organizers sailing circles around a city all too willing to sell out its bottom line concerns.

As SF Weekly wrote in February of last year: The bundling of the America's Cup with the construction of the cruise ship terminal has been presented to the people of this city and its leaders as the development equivalent of the "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!" "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" Reese's commercials. Here was a win-win scenario that gave everyone what they needed.

Be careful. That may not be chocolate.

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sebraleaves topcommenter

It's good to know that someone at the Port voiced concerns over the cruise terminal.  Too bad no one listened. Midas appears to have left the room. Why would anyone consider a second cruise terminal at the sports arena when the one the have now looks like such a boondoggle. Who is behind that crazy idea? Someone who thinks the key to unlocking SF's prosperity is to bring people in by the shiploads and dump them on the sidewalks at the dock, where they are expected to spend freely before taking off on a cruise.

Cruise ships are hotels with prepaid meals, drinks, and entertainment, so why would their clients come ashore to spend on those items? How many people can you jam into tourist spots in this city at one time? Mass transit is overwhelmed now. Only Supervisor Wiener has voiced concerns over that.


The zombie project from hell that nobody asked for that just refuses to die.


For good measure, consider that the America's Cup is using the Terminal facility FOR FREE from now until November, and during that period, renting out "suites" of various sizes for a limited number of days each time for $30,000 a pop. 

It's no wonder that the person who negotiated this for the city then was given a waiver to immediately go to work for the America's Cup committee.

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