The Chronicle Herald
Published: Sep 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Updated: Sep 10 at 8:40 p.m.
SYDNEY, N.S. —
Sydney’s newest infrastructure project, a $20 million docking pier on its waterfront, was officially opened Thursday with supporters claiming it was a great investment that will generate millions in economic opportunities.
Liberty Pier was unveiled before a gathering of municipal, provincial and federal politicians along with community business leaders.
“This will definitely drive economic opportunity and this is really just the beginning. Don’t lose sight and don’t lose hope,” boasted Premier Stephen McNeil, who was in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
McNeil said the project will help drive the economy of the entire island and that the provincial government and others are working hard to secure business opportunities.
Among such opportunities, he said, could involve attracting some regional cruise ships from Quebec and elsewhere to begin making Sydney a port of call.
When asked by reporters to respond to criticism that the cruise industry is not a safe investment, McNeil said he disagrees.
“Yes, that industry was hard hit but it is a shortsighted view to think the industry is dead.”
This year was supposed to be the inaugural season for the Port of Sydney’s second cruise ship berth which was to record a total of 117 cruise ship visits to the harbour, including 27 at the new dock.
The season was expected to see 212,597 passengers arrive on the island along with 89,351 crew members. There were 18 days scheduled for two-ship visits and another nine days when three ships per day were expected in port. The 2020 cruise season was to begin April 28 and wrap up on Oct. 30.
But that all came to a screeching halt in March when McNeil’s government imposed a province-wide state of emergency in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 which by then had developed into a global pandemic. Other provinces and territories did the same. Nova Scotia remains under a state of emergency and some of the restrictions initially set in place have been relaxed or lifted.
However, Canada continues to ban vessels with more than 500 on board from entering any port.
“This industry is an opportunity and will rebound. We will see tourism rebound,” said McNeil.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke agrees.
“We are ready to welcome the world,” cooed Clarke.
From his vantage point on the new pier, Clarke noted it was nice to see cranes protruding the waterfront skyline as work continues on constructing a new community college. He pointed to the dredging now underway near the coal pier as yet another welcomed harbourfront development and told his audience that over $3 million will be spent next year to transform Sydney’s main downtown street – Charlotte Street.
Also in attendance was Marlene Usher, CEO of the Sydney Ports Development Corporation. Usher said critics of the project need to get past thinking only in terms of cruise ship business.
“We are working on a number of opportunities from bulk carrier business to a ferry service to harbour tours,” said Usher, in listing a few projects that could be developed.
“Sydney is a harbour city with one main berth. It’s hard to grow with only one berth. We’ve now doubled that capacity,” said Usher.
She said the second pier development is a 50-75-year project that will help Sydney become a full-service port.
She said other projects being examined include providing fuel service for Marine Atlantic whose ferry service to Newfoundland and Labrador currently now only fuels in Newfoundland.
Usher said there are many other possibilities for business development at the pier other than cruise ships.
Although the pier is not located in his district, regional councillor Darren Bruckschwaiger said the project is a benefit to all.
“This was not a waste of money. Tourism is a mainstay of the island economy so any new business coming in benefits all.”
Until the COVID-19 outbreak, the cruise industry was the fastest-growing part of the travel sector with an estimated 32 million expected to take a cruise this year alone. While estimates vary, the industry is valued at $150-billion.
On-shore visits have aided local artisans who are able to sell their wares in various locations in downtown Sydney on cruise ships days. Such visits also help local merchants, museums and other points of cultural interest across the island.
A quick scan of websites suggests cruise lines are now offering discounts and other benefits for next year’s season.