Whittier hoping for more cruise ship visitors after lease approval, and Huna Totem Corp. commitment
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An Alaska Native corporation and the City of Whittier are celebrating a decision by the Alaskan Railroad board of directors on Monday that will help them grow the cruise ship industry in Alaska.
Whittier draws thousands of summer tourists, mostly from the large cruise ships every season, and the Huna Totem Corp. has a plan that could help them attract even more people.
On Monday morning, the Alaska Railroad’s board of directors approved Whittier’s request for a new lease of approximately 20 acres within the Alaska Railroad Company’s Whittier Reserve to develop a cruise ship terminal and related facilities.
“It really is our mission as the Alaska Railroad to enhance, enable, encourage whenever we can economic development in the Rail Belt. This is just a perfect example of that,” said Alaska Railroad board member John Binkley.
For the “Head of the Bay” concept the Huna Totem Corp. and Turnagain Marine plan to develop a new dock that can house two large cruise ships, and a 20,000 to 30,000 square foot terminal on the leased land that will be a major upgrade from the existing one.
“There was nothing for them to do or anywhere to go at the other depot,” said Jason Davis, president and CEO of Turnagain Marine. “We want to have shops, we want to bring in some history, we want to have accommodation for them, and a reason to be in Whittier. And then that will open it up for local tours, Prince William Sound tours.”
Davis said this is just phase one, as there are plans in phase two for future development like a hotel, more shops, and a possible boardwalk.
City Manager Jim Hunt said currently the railroad owns about 90% of the land in Whittier, and with the news on Monday he is excited for the city’s future.
“So this is critical because this gives us some autonomy. We’ll have further development there, business, retail tax, future head tax off the cruise ship passengers,” Hunt said. “This is going to give us a tax base we’ve never had before.”
In a city of less than 300 people, Hunt said the project could roughly generate between $1.2 to $1.4 million in additional revenue for Whittier.
”That’s not bad when you consider we have Princess and Holland at the private dock,” he said. “We’re looking at, with the head tax dollars which are regulated in how they can be used, but we’re looking in a few years at a possible near $3 million.”
The project is projected to be ready by the 2024 cruise season. Hunt said initially some residents did have some concerns about the project encroaching on the beach area, but those concerns became alleviated as the project became more developed and realized.
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