Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Building New Cruise Ship Dock

Funding secured, dock to be completed by 2024, to help maintain, grow city's cruise ship business.

By - Nov 7th, 2022 04:10 pm
The Viking Octantis docked in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Viking Octantis docked in Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee will soon be home to a $7.3 million cruise ship dock. It’s part of a strategy to secure the city’s key position in the burgeoning Great Lakes cruising industry.

The South Shore Cruise Dock, to be located at the southern tip of the harbor near Bay View, will provide a dedicated space for the increasingly frequent visits the city is seeing from the 666-foot, 378-guest Viking Octantis and a growing number of other vessels. It’s expected to be completed in 2024.

The city saw 13,610 passengers visit the city across 33 different vessel calls in 2022, up from approximately 1,000 passengers in 2018. But the passengers coming via the Octantis, the largest cruise ship on the Great Lakes, all had to first experience the city’s industrial inner harbor and Heavy Lift Dock.

While smaller cruise ships can dock at Pier Wisconsin at Discovery World and at a smaller south shore dock, the city does not have a non-industrial dock capable of berthing a Seawaymax-sized vessel. The Octantis was the first such max-sized vessel and Viking has a second set that will join it in 2023.

The new dock is to be built on existing fill east of the Lake Express ferry terminal at 2330 S. Lincoln Memorial Dr. The Common Council approved the final piece of the project’s funding, $2 million in borrowing, on Friday as part of adopting the city’s 2023 budget.

“As the Great Lakes cruising industry continues to grow, I couldn’t be more excited that thousands of passengers each year will step off the Viking Octantis and be welcomed to our great city by way of the 14th District,” said finance committee chair and Bay View Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic in a statement.

The city’s money builds on a $500,000 state Harbor Assistance Program grant, a $3.5 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation awarded by Governor Tony Evers in February and $1.29 million in Port Milwaukee matching funds. The matching funds include the proceeds from selling city-owned land to Komatsu as part of the development of the South Harbor Campus.

“Milwaukee is a great destination, filled with attractions and hospitality. People from around the globe are taking notice of our city, and the growing passenger and vessel visit numbers speak for themselves,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “We worked together to complete the financing package for the redevelopment of South Shore Cruise Dock. This investment is valuable to boosting our city’s recreation and tourism market that will grow our economy in the years ahead.”

The new dock is intended to position Milwaukee as a marquee cruising destination, helping secure highly-coveted cruise ship turnaround service. Turnarounds, which include the end of one trip and the start of another, double the number of passengers, generate hotel stays and provide ancillary revenue from the sale of supplies to the vessels. Most of Milwaukee’s visits in 2022 included turnaround service.

Port director Adam Tindall-Schlicht, before resigning in October for a federal job, said the city-owned port has learned a lot about servicing the Octantis in its temporary setup. The new dock would include permanent infrastructure to service the ships, including sewer and fuel lines.

Other ports, said Tindall-Schlicht, are moving to add these features which could result in Viking and others selecting them for turnaround service. Chicago currently uses a dock on its far south side, near the Indiana border, but could explore using Navy Pier as leases begin to expire in 2024.

“What keeps me up at night is if we don’t build South Shore correctly, Duluth is building a fantastic dock that will include all of these features,” said Tindall-Schlicht at an Aug. 11 Board of Harbor Commissioners meeting. “Chicago coming online at Navy Pier keeps me up. Duluth and their investment in their downtown dock keeps me up.”

Port Milwaukee has a 20-year commitment from the smaller Pearl Seas to lease the Pier Wisconsin dock, but its agreement with Viking is short-term. “Once we move forward with the dock we have the leverage to negotiate that 20-year commitment,” said Tindall-Schlicht. Larger vessels cannot access Pier Wisconsin because of dredging issues which would cost millions to correct.

There is currently no dockwall at the south shore site. “It’s a soup-to-nuts, comprehensive dock for Seawaymax cruise ship vessels,” said Tindall-Schlicht in February while standing at the site.

The port, currently under the leadership of acting director Jackie Q. Carter, is expected to issue a request for proposals for construction services in early 2023.

The cruise ship dock is being built atop a 50-acre landfill created in 1975 as part of an environmental cleanup effort. Starting in 2023, the northern 30 acres will be part of a new cleanup effort that includes building a 42-acre facility to the north.

The question of what to do with the five acres of land immediately next to the new dock still remains. The city solicited partners through a request for information in late 2021, but Tindall-Schlicht said there was only a single respondent. He previously said the port hoped the return of cruise ship traffic this year after a pandemic-related shutdown will draw more interest when the RFI is reissued.

The port was expected to generate $150,000 in direct revenue from the 33 cruise ship visits in 2022, and the Milwaukee area to gain a $2.25 million regional economic impact, according to port officials. In addition to Viking and Pearl Seas, vessels from American Queen Voyages (the former Victory Cruise Lines), Ponant Explorers and Vantage have visited Milwaukee.

February Photos

Viking Octantis Tour Photos From Inaugural Visit

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

2 thoughts on “Milwaukee Building New Cruise Ship Dock”

  1. NickR says:

    How much will the air pollution from the cruise ships impact the nearby communities?

    Cruise ship engines are a major point source of air pollution.

  2. Wardt01 says:

    Jeramey, any specific details regarding the statement “Milwaukee area to gain a $2.25 million regional economic impact” ?

    …. as in, how much $ PROFIT does the City of Milwaukee expect to generate that will go directly into our piggybank to help cover city services or help address the Pension problem?

    The Port is and has been for many years a well run business that generates huge & consistent profits for the City. (prob close to $800 mill PROFIT in the annum before covid)

    Their Board is great with financials, evidenced by their ability to get over 1/2 this project built using Other People’s Money!

    ….. However, I’m more curious as to how in depth our Common Council/ Finance Committee analyzed these numbers before happily borrowing $2mill for a “Field of Dreams” project, that gives us another page in the “Wow, Milwaukee ‘s Great Brochure”.

    Especially & specifically because last week the Common Council was debating on which libraries to close & City services to cut because “we’re broke”.

    And those are city services for tax paying residents, not typically used by 1 night guests before they take a cruise.

    If the Port is charging a $4500 fee to dock ($150k revenue /33 ships).. .. that’s REVENUE not profit.

    Did the Common Council/ Finance Committee presentation include the net profit after accounting for dockworkers, sewage treatment costs, refilling the H2O, trash/recycling, & security personnel, and cost of the $2 mill bond?

    $4500 charge per vessel, subtract…
    $500 for 100k gal MWW H2O/60k gal MMSD sewage
    $500 for DPW trash collection for 400 cruisers
    $3000 for 6 workers x 8 hrs to do the dockwork
    $1000 for 2 security x 8 hrs for screening
    =$4000 overhead cost using rough est

    leaves $500 profit per vessel…. and that’s before any borrowing costs.

    The City’s interest cost on $2mill bond assuming 4% rate is $80k year. that is $2400 for each of the 33 cruise ship visits…. and that is just the interest if we don’t pay down principal..

    Alternatively if we pay down the $2 mill of bonds over 20 years, we need $100k to cover principal each year.

    $100k Principal = $3000 per cruise ship (assuming 33 vessels again) … plus some declining interest amount that begins w $80k in year #1 and drops to $4k at year #20 that I’m too tired to calculate.

    Using rough estimates… The Port/City appears to lose quite alot for each vessel that arrives,…. and there was not much discussion about this from our Common Council /Finance Committee?

    The Port obviously manages their business & finances using a long term capital investment strategy, however the City has an immense current cash flow problem to address if they refuse to fix the pension problem.

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