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More cruise ships, visitors expected with major development proposed for Whittier

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 8:55 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Whittier draws thousands of summer tourists, mostly from the large cruise ships, but the city considered the “Gateway to Prince William Sound” is considering a plan by the Huna Totem Corp. that could attract even more people.

“We’ve designed something that we think is a destination that fits with the community of Whittier,” said Russell Dick, CEO and President of Huna Totem Corp. “They still have to go through their process as a community and determine what’s going to make the most sense for them.”

A new dock that would house two large cruise ships at one time is included in the proposed “Head of the Bay Project.” A new pier, boardwalk, train depot, and a bus turnaround area also make up the first phase of the plan that would be located on the west end of Whittier near the tunnel.

“Our goal is to create an experience or a destination in those communities where people walk off the ship and they get a sense of what the community is, right?” Dick said. “They get to live the community values, they get to experience that. They get to partake in community activities, and support the local economy.”

But, there’s a lot of work to be done before then.

“There’s the construction, of course, of the infrastructure,” Dick said. “And Phase One is going to be anywhere from $70-80 million, just in and of itself.”

Dick believes even more money could be spent in the city.

“So if you go beyond that, and you start looking at building out trail systems, building out a gondola system, building out this cultural center, this lodge,” Dick predicted. “This other infrastructure, I mean, you’re probably north of $200 million.”

He also said it will be up to the city what else gets built. According to Dick, there’s another payoff for Whittier.

“Local jobs, opportunities for locals to build their own businesses, the ability to create an increased tax base, the ability for the community itself to build a future for itself,” Dick said.

Icy Strait Point in Hoonah is a popular cruise destination. It got named port of the year for 2020 by the industry association, Seatrade Cruise Awards.

The Huna Totem Corp. owns and operates Icy Strait Point. It’s had a lot of success there, and wants do the same thing with Whittier.

The corporation is looking for public-private partnerships to pay for the project that could start during the first quarter of 2021, and could be completed in mid-2023. The corporation has presented the plan to the Whittier City Council and to local residents, and representatives said they look forward to the public input process.

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