Cruise traffic at Port of Saint John cultivates waterfront developments



Christopher Williams, Port of Saint John, NB, Canada


Where the St. John River meets the Bay of Fundy on Canada’s east coast, Saint John continues to have one of the busiest seaports in the country. Yet even with cargo volumes of more than 26 million tonnes per year and several centuries of marine trade and commerce, the Saint John waterfront now has more public access and green space than ever.

Boomers and their kids are moving back to the uptown core and there is true growth in the city. The Saint John Port Authority has helped to foster this evolution and in some cases led community activity through public and private partnerships and new technologies. The port currently has a $10-million cruise terminal planned for the waterfront and expects its busiest season next year with 147,000 passengers and 58 cruise ship visits. “Waterfront development on traditional commercial port property often comes with a struggle,” says Captain Al Soppitt, Saint John Port Authority President and CEO, “but in Saint John, development has been of a reasonably co-operative nature.” The Northern Ireland native has been at the helm of the port for a decade and has worked closely with agencies and community leaders to help Saint John stay on course as a premier waterfront in Canada.

The Saint John Waterfront Development Partnership

Creating this vision has been made possible by the Saint John Waterfront Development Partnership which has a mandate to transform the east side of the Inner Saint John harbour, under the direction of the Saint John Development Corporation. The Partnership is committed to revitalising the downtown of historic Saint John. In addition to the Port Authority, the Saint John Waterfront Development Partnership is comprised of the City of Saint John; Saint John Development Corporation; Enterprise Saint John Inc; Uptown Saint John Inc, and the Saint John Board of Trade. Through the partnership, Captain Soppitt says “the Port Authority seeks to balance its mandate of facilitating maritime trade and responding to the needs of the community”.

In the new millennium, community impetus for waterfront development coincided with a growth in the port’s burgeoning cruise industry. But the Port was already ahead of the wave, having made a strategic choice in 1999 to concentrate cruise traffic on the east side of the harbour. “It made sense for our cruise guests to be close to the historic core of the city where city attractions are located,” explains Soppitt. “The development of cruise business on the eastside of the harbour also supports the community’s wish to further develop the waterfront in this area.”

Preparing the site

By the spring of 2003, the Port Authority had prepared a cruise terminal site by demolishing an 11,000 square-metre shed on the east side of inner harbour. New bollards were installed for the largest cruise ships including the Queen Mary 2. Close to $6-million was invested during phase one. It covered ground works, resurfacing and $2.1 million on a state-of-the-art FMT gangway system that could rise and fall with the Fundy tides – safely and comfortably.

“New pilings were added to the site to reinforce the strength of the dock in preparation for our new gangway system and elevated walkway” recalls Stephen McCavour, Technical Services Manager for the Port Authority. The cost of the entire project has been estimated at $10 to $12 million. Phase two will be the terminal building, the construction of which should commence within the next eighteen months.

The Port Authority’s demolition of the old Pugsley A/B shed set the tone for a complete make over of the city’s closest waterfront street – aptly called Water Street. And during the course of work on the cruise terminal site, projects of other waterfront partners have surged forth. Emerging projects include development of Harbour Passage, a series of inter-connected waterfront parks, recreation spaces and heritage sites which will skirt the harbour when complete. Over the past three years $5.4 million of privatepublic partnerships including more than $250,000 from the Saint John Port Authority in both land and services, have created 3.76 kilometers of trail and park space on the Saint John harbour.

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