Juneau forum discusses local impacts of growth in cruise ship tourism

JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst shows attendees at a tourism forum the results of a survey from 2002 asking Juneau residents about visitor capacity. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)
JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst shows attendees at a tourism forum the results of a survey from 2002 asking Juneau residents about visitor capacity. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Juneau’s first large cruise ship of the year arrives this weekend, but the conversation about how to manage a growing tourism industry will continue well beyond this record-breaking summer season.

A public forum hosted by Tourism Best Management Practices and the Juneau Economic Development Council Tuesday night brought together industry members and the public to discuss those impacts.

In 2002, a poll of 1,500 residents asked whether they felt Juneau was keeping up with the growth of cruise ship tourism.

More than half felt that Juneau had reached or surpassed its capacity at that point.

Only 13 percent felt that Juneau could handle “substantially more cruise ship passengers.”

Seventeen years later, the number of cruise ship passengers visiting Juneau in the summer has increased by about 76 percent.

Managing that growth is what brought more than 100 people together at Tuesday’s forum, where they talked about ways the city could better address some of the negative impacts.

City Manager Rorie Watt focused on crowd and traffic mitigation downtown.

He described a project in the late 90s, when the city added bus parking by Marine Park.

“And people were horrified at the cost,” Watt said to the group. “I’m here to tell you that the cheap places to develop on the waterfront don’t exist.”

Watt listed several of the projects that have come out of the city’s Long Range Waterfront Plan.

Central to that has been the seawalk, which now stretches in two sections from the Franklin dock to Marine Park and from the mouth of Gold Creek to Overstreet Park by the Douglas Bridge.

Watt said the seawalk has been instrumental in spreading out summertime crowds downtown and allowing better access to Juneau’s waterfront for both locals and visitors.

The long term goal is to eventually connect the seawalk so that it extends all the way from the cruise ship dock at the rock dump to the whale statue.

“The other pieces of the waterfront, we’re working on those and we would like them to move faster. But I think the reality is … none of these things happen fast,” Watt said. “And I want you to know that you’ll be horrified at the costs of those projects, but we’ve been warming you up for the past 15 years.”

Watt said the city’s recent legal settlement with Cruise Lines International Association Alaska over the collection and spending of marine passenger fees provides a clear path for the city to fund those projects in the future.

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