With the cruise ship business booming, Massachusetts port officials are planning on a major upgrade to the Black Falcon terminal, the biggest renovation to the South Boston facility since it was converted from an old Army warehouse more than 30 years ago.
The Massachusetts Port Authority has convinced state lawmakers to include $100 million in an economic development bill that could be approved by the House of Representatives as soon as Tuesday. The big money is necessary to rework the terminal to accommodate the huge new cruise ships the industry is building — and the crowds that come with them.
“Globally, the cruise industry is growing like bonkers right now,” said Monty Mathisen, managing editor of Cruise Industry News. “There’s an unprecedented amount of growth.”
More than 100 ships are scheduled to be delivered during the next decade, Mathisen said, more than triple the size of the backlog four years ago. All three of the big publicly traded cruise ship companies — Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line — are reporting strong profits and are looking to expand, he said.
And Boston, he added, is well positioned to capitalize on that increased interest because of Logan Airport’s proximity to the terminal, now also known as Flynn Cruiseport Boston, and the number of potential travelers within driving distance.
Cruise ship traffic has already been building at the South Boston terminal. Massport said it had 150 ship visits last year, an increase of more than 30 percent from 2016, and passenger counts increased similarly, to 388,000 in 2017.
Massport expects even better times ahead, with 400,000-plus passengers anticipated this season, chief executive Thomas Glynn said.
One reason Glynn cited for the growth: new two-week routes that will take tourists further south from Boston by ship than ever before, to Cuba and the eastern Caribbean. The terminal’s current season lasts for about six months every year, but Glynn hopes the renovation project could help Massport extend that season into the colder months.
This week’s vote would be just one in a series of steps to get the renovations underway. If the Legislature authorizes the $100 million bonding request, the state administration would still need to decide to move ahead with the spending.
The improvements include rearranging the vast interior of the terminal to accommodate larger crowds, installing a new heating and cooling system, and building out the currently vacant second floor.
The project would take about three years to complete, including planning and permitting time. It would be the biggest upgrade to the nearly 400,000-square-foot complex since Massport opened the cruise terminal in 1986.
“A major upgrade will take it into the 21st century, as we’re trying to grow these jobs and this corner of the economy,” said Senator Nick Collins, who represents South Boston on Beacon Hill.
Pat Moscaritolo, chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been helping Massport lobby for the money. Moscaritolo said the cruise terminal already plays a critical role in the city’s tourism sector, one that would grow significantly with these renovations.
“Basically you have thousands of passengers that get off and they then spend the day leaving all this money behind at attractions, at museums, at retailers,” Moscaritolo said. “You immediately get a sense of the impact, when you talk to people in the industry.”
Senator Eric Lesser, cochairman of the Legislature’s economic development committee, said cruise ship jobs aren’t as necessarily as high profile as the ones at General Electric or Amazon. But they also play a key role in the economy, he said.
“Boston is becoming an increasingly white-collar workforce,” said Lesser, a Democrat from Longmeadow. “This is an important way to support a lot of blue-collar jobs in Boston.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.