Each time a ship docks at Port Liberty, the city’s economy sees more than a million dollars in new business.
With more than 308 dockings in the last five years that transported more than 1.5 million guests, the port has given a significant boost to Bayonne businesses.
According to Anthony Caputo, director of operations for Port Liberty, it started as a five-week experiment that turned into five years of successful operations, and as with the opening of the new berth, Royal Caribbean is expected to remain in Bayonne permanently.
Caputo, who served as director of shipping during the years when Cape Liberty still operated as a military depot supplying operations throughout the world, was instrumental in promoting this location in 2003 as a possible location for cruise port operations.
“This was touch and go when we first started,” he said. “But when I left Manhattan, I brought 30 percent of the cruise business with me, and a five week experiment turned into a five-year success story.”
The new berth, which is located at northeast corner of Cape Liberty, improves docking operations, allowing ships to dock in less than 15 minutes as opposed to the previous half hour at the old pier a mile and a half further inland, Caputo said.
Although only one ship sailed out of Port Liberty this year, each sailing was fully booked, Caputo said, a remarkable feat considering the tough economic times. Most other ports saw a significant drop.
Bayonne also began year-round operations over the last year so that many of these sailings took place when there was snow and ice on the ground.
Caputo said part of the success of the last year was due to the cruise line attracting European tourists, who came to the United States to take advantage of the weak dollar.
Next year, Royal Caribbean is expected to bring another ship to Bayonne, which will boost business by more than 30 percent, with as many as 50,000 additional passengers.
Ribbon cutting for piers
Public officials gathered for the official ribbon cutting last week at the opening of what is called N-1 pier, gathering on the helipad on the front deck of the Explorer of the Sea, overlooking the 9/11 monument.
When first brought to Bayonne, Royal Caribbean operated its ships out of N-5, a mile and half deeper along the peninsula.
Over the last several years, using significant amount of federal funds, the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority was able to rebuild N-1 – the first pier. Along with dredging operations that helped clear the harbor so that the cruise ships could sail directly in, the move to the new pier allowed the BLRA to sell N-5 and nearly 90 acres of land for use as a car import/export operation.
Port Liberty had continued to remain behind only New York City as a leading departure point for cruises along the East Coast.
The funding of the extension of berth N-1 includes a $4.7 million grant administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration.
The grant money was obtained due to the efforts of then congressman, now U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who secured this funding through the Department of Defense appropriations bill.
The reconstruction consisted of the construction of new concrete platforms, steel pipe piles, steel bulkhead, steel bollards and incidental site work, allowing the BLRA to extend Berth N-1 several hundred feet to the east. This extension project was originally conceived by the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the U.S. Army for military use prior to the Military Ocean Terminal being placed on the base closure list in 1995. Due to funding constraints at the time, the Army did not undertake this project.
The scope of this project includes the construction of a 300-foot extension of the existing relieving platform at Berth N-1, including the installation of deck mounted steel bollards, the installation of 386 feet of steel bulkhead and tie-backs, as well as repairs to the existing deck. Trevcon Construction Services of Liberty Corner, N.J., was awarded a $9.36 million contract to complete this project.
“I’ve been working hard for years to help bring $30 million in federal support for projects like this.” – Robert Menendez
Standing on the windy deck of the 20-story-tall ship, Menendez said Royal Caribbean’s investment showed confidence in Bayonne as well as the state’s infrastructure of roads, airports, and rail lines that would transport passengers to the port.
“I’ve been working hard for years to help bring $30 million in federal support for projects like this, which enabled stabilization of the ship repair facility, bulkhead construction and berth stabilization and repair,” Menendez said. “Projects like this are just one of the many investments we’re making on the federal level to create jobs for workers damaged by this recession and create a new foundation for economic growth in the 21st century.”
Rep. Albio Sires, whose office issued a statement, said job creation was critical for turning the economy around.
“The opening of the newly rehabilitated berth provides Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises with a permanent home in Bayonne and created more than 100 jobs during the construction period,” Sires said.
Caputo said that as many as 300 people are employed each time a ship docks at Port Liberty.
Mayor Mark Smith said this was a key part of plans for the development of the Peninsula, and he noted that over the next few weeks, the city and the BLRA would be reviewing development plans for other portions of the base.
Caputo said the next step is to rebuild N-2, which would allow Royal Caribbean to bring in more ships on a regular basis.
Earlier this year, Sires asked that the project for N-2 be included in the federal Defense Department Appropriations targeted for the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority. This would be used to construct and stabilize 1,389 feet of decaying bulkhead and eroding shoreline.
Caputo said the additional berth would accommodate an additional ship as well as provide space for military and other vessels in case of a national emergency.
Other changes in operations over the last few years have allowed the port to become much more efficient. Because the terminal is more than a mile from N-1, operators have to transport passengers and luggage to the ship. In the past, luggage was shipped in trailers that required more than an hour to load and unload. By cutting off the sides of the trailers and using forklifts, the unloading time takes less than seven minutes, Caputo said.