Ketchikan’s cruise dock can accommodate one megaship at a time. Soon, that won’t be enough.

The Norwegian Joy visits Ketchikan on May 13, 2019.

The Norwegian Joy visits Ketchikan on May 13, 2019. It’s one of a handful of mega cruise ships coming to Alaska this season. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Reconfiguring the city of Ketchikan’s downtown cruise dock to accommodate larger ships could cost an estimated $95 million, not including design costs and uplands infrastructure work. Add in those other costs, and the city would be facing a bill of up to $150 million.

But improvements aren’t optional if Ketchikan wants to remain a premier cruise destination.

The Ketchikan City Council will talk Thursday about whether to move forward with a private-public partnership to help pay for that work.

Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon writes in a memo to the council that the current fleet of ships visiting Alaska will slowly be replaced by new vessels that exceed 1,000 feet in length. Ketchikan’s port isn’t set up to accommodate more than one of those longer ships at a time.

In his memo, Amylon expressed concern about adding that level of extra debt. He says the city already has outstanding debt of about $111 million.

For various reasons, Amylon writes that the risk of bonding for the project is too great. But taking no action also is a big risk. He says some cruise lines and port operators have expressed interest in forming a partnership with the city.

Amylon gave examples of similar partnerships. Norwegian Cruise Line invested in Hoonah’s facilities at Icy Strait Point; Carnival invested in Skagway through its purchase of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad; and the Port of Seattle is currently considering bids from private industry to invest in a new cruise terminal.

Amylon writes that now is the time for Ketchikan to explore a partnership to make needed improvements to the downtown cruise dock. The council will vote on a motion to start that process.

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