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11:51 PM Mon, Sept. 24th

Cruise ships coming to the desert?

Not quite, but easier access promised at ‘port of Arizona’

Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich chats Friday with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at the annual Arizona-Mexico Summit. With them is Sergio Torres, Pavlovich’s father-in-law. (Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich chats Friday with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at the annual Arizona-Mexico Summit. With them is Sergio Torres, Pavlovich’s father-in-law. (Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

PARADISE VALLEY — It’s not exactly ocean-front property for Arizona.

But a new agreement signed here Friday at the annual summit of the Arizona-Mexico Commission is designed to pave the way for residents of the region to have easy access to cruises — easier, at least than now having to drive to southern California or Texas.

The deal inked between Gov. Doug Ducey and Claudia Pavlovich, his Sonora counterpart, would have Arizona firms service the ships that Mexico’s government hopes will soon be docking in Puerto Penasco.

Hector Platt Mazon, Sonora’s tourism director, said construction of the necessary pier and terminal, which has been stalled at about 50 percent completion, is now expected to resume.

And Pavlovich told Capitol Media Services that the agreement she signed with Ducey, assuring the cruise companies they will have access to needed services, should help loosen up federal funding.

“I think it will make it easier,’’ she said, predicting that the community, known on this side of the border, will become “the port of Arizona.’’

Platt Mazon said he intends to deliver the signed “memorandum of understanding’’ to Mexico’s federal officials on Monday.

Pavlovich said the idea has everything going for it.

She noted that Hermosillo, Sonora’s largest city and its capital, is six hours from Puerto Penasco, too far to be a steady source of everything from linens to flowers for cruise ships that routinely need supplies for 3,000 passengers at a pop. By contrast, she said, Phoenix is just half as far away.

And there’s something else.

Platt Mazon said he sees it as becoming “the home port of Arizona.’’

He cited figures that about 1.2 million Arizonans take a cruise each year. Add to that New Mexico, Nevada and California, the potential cruise audience approaches 7 million.

“This is within driving range of Rocky Point,’’ Platt Mazon said. “This causes a very interesting market for it.’’

He said talks already are underway with Carnival cruise lines, which operates ships under several banners. The timing, said Platt Mazon, is excellent because cruise companies are planning voyages that far out.

Platt Mazon said the assurance that goods and services will be available from Arizona is crucial to making the port a success. He said the cruise companies already have relationships with U.S. suppliers.

“So it will be easier for them to continue making business with the ones they already have business,’’ he said.

Still, he acknowledged, there are other potential hurdles. One is the time it can take for people to cross back into the United States.

Platt Mazon said some of that is within the control of Sonora, like widening the road between Puerto Penasco and the border. The rest, however, may require the cooperation of — and funding from — federal governments in both countries.

Ducey said he sees having a cruise port within three hours of the state’s largest city as an new — and what might be unexpected — economic benefit.

“We talk about the quality of life here,’’ he told Capitol Media Services. “We think our geographic location to a port like Puerto Penasco ... just provides another tourism opportunity for people in our state.’’

Ducey called it “a big win’’ for the state. And even for those who may not be interested in cruises, the promise of improved roads and a better border crossing has benefits.

“As beautiful as it is here in the desert, we need an easy, convenient way to get to the beach,’’ the governor said.

“There’s tourism opportunities on both sides of the border,’’ Ducey continued. “And this is one that Angela (his wife) and I and our family will certainly take advantage of.’’

Still, there is no absolute guarantee that the port, now half built, will happen.

Plans and construction began four years ago, with progress in fits and starts.