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Cruise ship business flounders in Astoria

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Articles - January 2010
Thursday, December 17, 2009
cruise
Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas won't be making a stop in Astoria this year.
COLUMBIA RIVER MARITIME MUSEUM PHOTO

The city of Astoria is bracing for a substantial hit to its local economy because it is losing half its cruise ship business.

Between 2007 and 2009, Astoria averaged more than 18 ships a year, but the port lists only nine expected for 2010. Industry averages mean that this picturesque city of nearly 10,000 people can expect to lose $2.1 million in retail sales. The Port of Astoria estimates it will lose up to $180,000 in revenue.

“It’s a blow,” says MacAndrew Burns, executive director of the Clatsop County Historical Society. Burns says he estimates he will lose about 5% of revenue without the ships.

Pete Gimre, owner of Gimre’s Shoes, says his store does up to 50% more business on days the ships are in port, requiring him to add eight to 12 employee hours each day. “[The ships] boost so many businesses downtown, it’s just gravy,” he says. “But when you lose that gravy, things aren’t as good.”

Jill Harding, chief of visitor services at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, says the park doesn’t see as many visitors from the ships as other area attractions, but she agrees the declining numbers of passengers coming to town will definitely affect admissions.

Judy Niland, managing director of the Astor Street Opry Company, says she has already lowered her ticket prices by about $3 to attract locals who might be tightening their belts. “When they’re feeling the pinch, we feel it the most.”

“Nobody wants to hear there will be half as many ships,” says Paula Bue, manager of the Astoria Column visitor center. But like many Astoria residents, she stays positive and looks to the future — particularly the city’s bicentennial this year. “If 20,000 people aren’t coming [from the ships], we’ll just have to go find another 20,000.”

“We need to think ahead and do things to increase traffic without them,” says Blue Anderson, head of visitor services at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. She says her museum will have extra exhibits and special events to mitigate any loss of revenue.

Skip Hauke, of the Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, says the visits declined because of “extreme taxes” from the state of Alaska, a destination for many of the ships. Johanna Bales, deputy director of Alaska’s tax division, says her state levies a 33% tax on gambling revenues on top of a 9.4% corporate tax and $50 in passenger fees.

City leaders count their blessings Astoria didn’t lose all their cruise ship visits. “I like to think we have nine ships coming in next year,” says Hauke. “That’s more than most places. If we treat them right they’ll return when the economy improves.”


WILLIAM E. CRAWFORD
 

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