Houston cruise ship terminal likely to shut down

HOUSTON – An ambitious, expensive and maybe misguided project to lure the cruise ship industry to Houston, and perhaps away from Galveston, is failing and will most likely be re-purposed for another use.

“I understand the port is considering several options -- one to use it as a retrofit for incoming automobiles,” said Sen. John Whitmire.

The Port of Houston would not confirm specific plans for Pasadena’s Bayport Cruise Terminal.

“There are other opportunities it can be used for and we’re going to continue to explore those opportunities,” Port of Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther said.

Both Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises confirmed to Channel 2 Investigates the companies’  plans to remove their ships from the Port of Houston’s $108 million cruise terminal after the current season ends.

“The cruise lines have made a decision, a business decision, to go elsewhere,” Guenther, said.

As early as late April, the cruise terminal will be left with no cruise ships, a familiar problem.

The facility sat unused for its intended purpose for about six years before NCL and Princess Cruises signed on in 2012.

Channel 2 Investigates examined the cruise terminal’s financial data. The facility has never been profitable since construction finished in 2008.

In addition to the $108.4 million it took to build, the terminal has lost at least $12 million in operating costs since 2013.

[READ: Cruise terminal balances]

“All you (have) to do is look at the location and use some common sense,” Whitmire said.

The Port of Houston’s cruise terminal, located in Pasadena, is at the end of a road that's home to heavy industry.

But the bigger problem in terms of location, Whitmire said, is for the cruise lines themselves, a point also made by Sen. Paul Bettencourt.

“In the end, you’ve got a logistical problem," Bettencourt said. "You’re moving a boat farther up the Ship Channel than what can be serviced by competitors right down in Galveston."

The trip from the Port of Houston’s Bayport Cruise Ship Terminal adds hours to time spent in intercoastal waters, where onboard casinos are not licensed to operate.

“Just like any business, it’s cyclical and we’re going to look for opportunities. It’s no different than any other facility we have,” Guenther said.

The terminal was built with bond money, part of a 1999 $380 million package backed by the citizens of Harris County.

Guenther was appointed executive director in 2014. He’s worked for the Port of Houston since 2005, according to his LinkedIn page. No current Port of Houston board members sat on the board when the bond measure originally passed.

Bettencourt estimated roughly one-third of the Port of Houston tax that appears on property owners' annual tax bill reflects tax-supported bond debt -- debt that includes the cruise terminal and other port projects.

“This is the one port that is very unusual, that it has a property tax subsidy. I didn’t support the bond because I thought port operations should get off the property tax subsidy,” Bettencourt said.