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Cruise ship may dock at new Pier 60

The Crown Empress dinner, dance and casino cruise ship one day may sail from Pier 60 after reconstruction of the pier is complete.

City officials are considering adding accommodations for the 150-foot-long ship to the design of the pier, they said Monday.

A year ago, the cruise line and city officials worked on plans for the ship to sail out of Clearwater Harbor, but plans fell through because they couldn't work out adequate arrangements for docking.

But City Manager Michael Wright told city commissioners that the new $2-million pier, which will jut 1,100 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, would be well suited for the ship. He said there is time to add changes in the plans for the pier, which closed June 1.

"I personally think it would be great for tourism," said Commissioner Fred Thomas.

Mayor Rita Garvey said, "I encourage you to continue to look into it."

Wright told commissioners he would determine the additional cost, if any, of the work for the ship. Commissioners then would make a final decision at another meeting.

The Crown Empress currently operates 16 cruises a week out of John's Pass, carrying as many as 12,000 passengers a month, said Espen Tanberg, vice president of marketing and sales for Empress Cruise Line. The city of Clearwater could earn as much as $40,000 a month in port and parking fees, Tanberg said.

"There are a lot of foreign tour operators who have contacted us about Clearwater," said Tanberg, adding there is a market for such a cruise ship on Clearwater Beach. "They are anxious to bring tourists into Clearwater."

If all goes as planned, the Crown Empress would move to Clearwater and a larger sister ship, the Royal Empress, would sail out of John's Pass, Tanberg said. The Royal Empress, a new 235-foot-long ship, will begin operating out of Miami in September, Tanberg said.

Tanberg said Clearwater was the cruise line's first choice for the Crown Empress. The ship, which is 38 feet wide and has a shallow draft, was to cruise into Clearwater Harbor, Tanberg said.

"We've done an extensive study on Clearwater," he said. "That's our primary location for her."

Tentative plans would mean the ship would berth at Pier 60 to pick up and drop off passengers, but probably would have to go to another port to refuel and stock provisions, Tanberg said.

City commissioners have planned to replace the aging pier for more than a year. Demolition of the current pier and construction of a new one are scheduled to take eight months.

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