The port is actively pursuing more business from the Great Lakes cruise industry, said Adam Schlicht, port director. Historically, Milwaukee attracted about four or five cruise visits each summer. It will double or triple that number in 2019 thanks to new strategies officials are adopting, he said.
There are places for cruise ships to stop now, including at Pier Wisconsin outside of Discovery World and near the terminal for the Lake Express ferry. But the waterfront south of Greenfield Avenue that currently belongs to the Port of Milwaukee could be a more attractive spot for cruise ships to dock, especially big ones.
That’s the same property Komatsu Mining is negotiating to buy from the city for its planned $285 million headquarters. It sets up a unique situation – tall vacation cruise ships loading and unloading tourists at the waterfront next to the manufacturing company’s global headquarters office building.
Port officials want to pursue the option to dock cruise ships at the property while selling the bulk of that Greenfield Avenue property to Komatsu Mining. Schlicht and Milwaukee development commissioner Rocky Marcoux said the two concepts can work together.
“If anything, it is just another point of interest folks would see looking out their window,” Marcoux said. “What is the company looking at in any event? They are looking out over a working port. This is just one more interesting facet to that.”
Officials from Komatsu Mining declined comment, deferring questions to Marcoux.
Milwaukee is already picking up more cruise business by promoting itself as a “turnaround” destination.
Historically, cruise ships would usually stop for six or 12 hours in Milwaukee and let vacationers come ashore to explore the city. The port wants to expand on that to make the port a place for ships to start and end their week-long cruises, Schlicht said. Generally, it means cruise ships would end their runs in Milwaukee, sending patrons off to potentially fly home via General Mitchell International Airport, for example.
After being restocked with new food and water overnight, a new batch of vacationers would board and ship out the next day, potentially after renting a hotel room overnight in Milwaukee.
“We think this is a really excellent opportunity for Milwaukee,” Schlicht said. “In the last three months that I have been port director, all of the inquiries we are getting are for the turnaround service.”
The waterfront at Komatsu Mining’s future headquarters would be an ideal spot for that kind of business. The harbor is 27 feet deep at its dockwall. That’s deep enough to handle the largest ships that can enter the Great Lakes through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Schlicht said.
In addition, the land is shielded in the inner-harbor, where the water remains calmer even if weather is inclement, Schlicht said.
Milwaukee officials are considering a land sale agreement with Komatsu for the Greenfield Avenue property. Under that deal, the city would keep the first 30 feet of land along the property’s waterline. That land would become a public river walk, and also preserves the city’s access to the water for cruise ships, for example.
The Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners, in endorsing the land sale on Friday, asked Marcoux’s department to negotiate to keep about twice as much land along the waterline under city ownership.
“You need to have just a little bit more room where you can bring in the (drinking) water, bring in the food,” Schlicht said. “Something like 60 feet-plus would give us a little bit more flexibility to create that opportunity.”
Marcoux said Komatsu Mining has been a “good neighbor” in its discussions with the city thus far.
“It’s an exciting concept,” he said of the cruise ships. “Obviously we’ll work with the port to see where it goes, but right now our agreement is 30 feet.”
Komatsu is also working to buy about 46 acres from Wisconsin Gas immediately south of the Port of Milwaukee property for its headquarters.
SOURCE: Milwaukee Business Journals