Princess' inaugural trip on the 3,080-passenger Caribbean Princess, a benefit cruise to support veterans, is scheduled for Nov. 5-9, 2013. In the fall of 2014, Norwegian Cruise Lines will begin operating the 2,374-passenger Norwegian Jewel from Houston on week-long cruises to the western Caribbean.
"Securing this cruise business helps fulfill our commitment by building the cruise terminal to spur job creation and economic development for the entire greater Houston and Pasadena region," Jim Edmonds, chairman of the authority's commission, said in a statement.
The release did not include financial details, but it estimated each cruise line will have a $50 million annual economic impact, including nearly $1 million in state and local tax revenue, according to economic consulting firm Martin Associates. Nearly 100 new jobs are predicted.
"Return to Houston'
Kevin Sheehan, the CEO of Norwegian, said in the Port Authority's release that the cruise line's expansion "into new homeports" is made possible by the addition of two new ships to its fleet, the Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway.
"We listened to the feedback from our travel partners and guests who have been requesting our return to Houston," Sheehan said. "We are also going back in a big way by sending one of our Jewel-class Freestyle Cruising ships to their very impressive new cruise terminal."
The Bayport cruise terminal was used temporarily by Carnival Cruise Lines after Ike.
The otherwise empty terminal, which the authority spent $108.4 million building, has been cited by critics as evidence of financial waste and overspending. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said it is one reason he authored an amendment calling for the authority to undergo review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which studies whether to abolish state agencies.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett called the announcement "great news."
"I think this shows that the port is going the right direction," he said, noting that he was aware the authority's new executive director, Leonard Waterworth, had been working to find tenants for the terminal.
Waterworth, hired in April, said in May that he had been working actively to secure tenants for the terminal since being appointed on an interim basis in January.
That was after county officials criticized the authority for not disclosing that it had been in talks with the Military Sealift Command about housing naval support vessels there.
Whitmire said it's good the terminal will be used for its original purpose, but that he will "reserve judgment" until he sees the details of the agreement and return on investment.
Pay too much?
"I hope they didn't have to pay a cruise ship too much to come in there," Whitmire said, noting the high fuel cost for cruise ships to travel up the Houston Ship Channel rather than stopping in Galveston. "It's supposed to be the other way around, you know."
The announcement follows a Tuesday vote by the Sunset Commission to recommend a total sweep of the authority's seven-member governing board and to take away local government's power to appoint replace- ments and give it to the governor.
Commissioners had little to say on the matter during their regular meeting Thursday when the authority's head of government relations gave a Sunset update, but they did ask some questions about the legislative process.