The Port of Seattle is open for a sea change on Terminal 46.

On Tuesday, the Commission voted 5-0 to release a 'Request for Qualifications' for a $200 million dollar renovation of the Terminal's north side, to allow for a cruise ship berth.  

The Commission, with the backing of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, is ready to convert 30 acres near First and Main to become the fourth berth in Seattle.  It already allows the ships to dock at Terminal 66 near Belltown, and Terminal 91 near Interbay.

The cruise ship industry is booming in Seattle, since it was launched 20 years ago. In 2019, the Port projects 212 different visits, bringing 1.2 million people in and out of Seattle.

20 years of Port of Seattle cruise ship industry
Port of Seattle

"I think it's huge," said Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck, who acknowledged that the push has stayed under the radar.  But the Alliance, made up of Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma commissioners already signaled the move back in February.  

Long-term plans include recent work at the Husky Terminal in Tacoma, and a major redevelopment of T-5 in West Seattle.  That terminal, which has sat empty for the last few years, is projected to be a container ship hub. The Port of Seattle has viewed that as an opportunity to re imagine T-46, with a mixed use of maritime industrial and cruise business.

"We're going to be the greenest, cleanest terminal in the United States," said Steinbrueck after the vote, also acknowledging the whispers about T-46 for years. It has been targeted for a mid-high rise residential building, parks, and even the 'Emerald City Center' sports complex.  

"You can do the math, (the ships) bring a considerable amount of money to the City," said Bill Weise, the General Manager of the Silver Cloud Hotel in SoDo. Economic impact numbers tend to be all over the board, but Weise said with an added cruise ship so close to the stadiums, "It'll be an improvement."

The Port expects to select a preferred partner this summer, and is targeting opening the berth by 2022.  Steinbrueck estimates about 30 percent of all cruise ship traffic could dock at the new berth in the long term. 

There has been some social media criticism of the Port in the wake of the news, pointing to comments about T-46's importance during the run up to the infamous SoDo Arena vote in 2016. It ultimately led to the Council rejecting a request to eliminate a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue for the new arena, because of its proximity to T-46.

However, Steinbrueck is quick to point out that a cruise ship doesn't bring the same kind of traffic like other buildings.

"This will have the added advantages of being close to downtown businesses, restaurants, hotels where they can simply walk between the cruise terminal and those businesses downtown," he said.

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Chris daniels