The South Carolina State Ports Authority announced the winners of a $2.4 million design contract for the cruise ship terminal at Union Pier, the first step in broader redevelopment of the 35-acre port property, which is expected to include new commercial and residential construction and expanded public waterfront access on the peninsula.

On Tuesday, the authority awarded the design contract to CH2M Hill, along with local partners LS3P Associates, Collins Engineers, DesignWorks and Thomas & Hutton. Renovation of the warehouse expected to house the terminal will start later this year. The terminal is set to open in the latter half of 2012. 

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce released a study detailing the economic importance of the Union Pier redevelopment. The study claims that the pier redevelopment plan will have a $43 million economic impact on Charleston and create 178 new construction jobs and 300 total jobs.

Port officials have argued that the project will reduce traffic congestion related to the cruise industry. Cargo ships, trains, and trucks will also be relocated as port shipments are moved to the other terminal. The port has also suggested that the state will open up the rest of the 35-acres. It could also mean new routes for downtown traffic and new public access to the waterfront, particularly at Market Street. However, port leaders have threatened to abandon redevelopment plans and simply remodel the existing terminal if if faces too many hurdles from peninsula critics.

Environmentalists at the nonprofit Coastal Conservation League have challenged the port, claiming that the cruise industry negatively impacts water and air quality. While the Ports Authority has been meeting with city staff, the plans for the new cruise terminal will not have to go before the city’s architectural board or other groups for approval. “The lack of public input possibilities are worrisome,” CCL Project Manager Katie Zimmerman says. “The only opportunities are when the port wants to meet with people.”

Port officials note that the new cruise terminal will be respectful of Charleston architecture and that the community can continue to comment on the redevelopment at  —Greg Hambrick