BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Buffalo's next big project is becoming a port city for cruise ships, with a goal of attracting passengers from all over the world.
"Oh just transformative, can you imagine ships lined up with 200-300 passengers?" asked Steve Ranalli, President of Erie Canal Harbor Development Group.
Cruises from across the five great lakes are becoming more popular, breaking records in 2022 with nearly 150,000 passenger visits to Great Lakes ports like Cleveland, Milwaukee, Erie and Toronto, according to Cruise the Great Lakes.
These trips have generated more than $125 million for the port cities and without the proper infrastructure, these ships and thousands of passengers are bypassing Buffalo.
"Newsflash, there's a place called Buffalo," said Governor Kathy Hochul on a stop in Buffalo back in August.
Visit Buffalo Niagara is now working with Cruise the Great Lakes to add our city to the map. Our area gets 9 million visitors each year, bringing in more than 1.9 billion dollars in economic impact, which officials say could grow immensely by welcoming cruise passengers.
For an added boost, the goal is to make Buffalo a home port.
"People that would take that cruise would actually fly into Buffalo, then take that boat from Buffalo out around the great lakes and come back," said Ranalli.
What needs to be done to make this happen?
These are all just plans right now, because Buffalo doesn't have the infrastructure needed to make it happen yet. We'd need to build a cruise terminal, welcome center and make sure these ships have the space to dock.
Plus, these trips pass through Canada, so U.S. Customs now needs to get involved.
"U.S. Customs has been working closely with the shipping industry for the last few years," said Ranalli.
And then you need cruise ships to sign on. 7 News Reporter Taylor Epps reached out to American Queen Voyages, Viking Cruises and Pearl Seas Cruises, none were able to provide any concrete plans for a future in Buffalo.
"Pearl Seas is always exploring options for visiting new towns and small ports across the country," said a spokesperson for Pearl Seas.
They anticipate another sell out year on the Great Lakes in 2023, something local leaders want to cash in on soon.
"Hopefully around 2026 or a little bit beyond," said Kaler.
The next step is to bring in consultants to find out how and when a port can be built on the waterfront.