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Effort to build new cruise ship docks gathers steam

Kyle Walker
Seward Journal
October 3, 2018

A proposal to build up to three new cruise ship docks in Seward now has some consulting muscle behind it. A trio of firms with expertise developing cruise destinations and infrastructure presented to the City Council on Monday on the potential project, saying that Seward has the opportunity to take advantage of a coming boom in the cruise industry.

The three firms have picked up on an idea championed by local Brad Snowden, who has come to the council a number of times over the past year, suggesting that the city lease portions of the waterfront for this purpose.

The visiting companies represented three angles on any potential project. PND Engineers designs and builds maritime infrastructure. Idea, Inc. is a Florida-based consulting firm with a long history working with cruise destinations in the Caribbean. Bazarian International is a financial firm.

PND’s Todd Belsick and Idea’s Hugh Darley told the council that there are over a hundred cruise ships currently under construction, a boom that Belsick called the industry’s “largest construction period in recent history.” Many of these vessels are even larger than today’s largest cruise ships, they said, some with capacity for over 4,000.

The cruise lines are already looking for “parking places” for those boats, although they will not be taking on their first passengers for years, the presenters said. Berths in Alaska have largely filled up, Darley said.

“You can’t take any more ships in Juneau, you can’t take any more ships in Skagway, you can’t take any more ships in Ketchikan,” he said. “What we’d like to do is show the industry where the opportunities are.”

Darley and Belsick ran three options by the council, two of which would require leasing city-owned property.

The first option is to build anywhere from one to three docks along the waterfront in downtown Seward. The second option was to work with the Alaska Railroad to replace the existing docks. The third option was to build a single dock downtown, catering specifically to smaller, “boutique” cruises.

Carl Bazarian of Bazarian International said that the project could proceed under a public-private partnership, with financing coming largely from the private sector.

Any docks built in the downtown area would fall into the area damaged by the tsunami that followed the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Willard Dunham remembered the tsunami’s impact on Seward, and cautioned the council against over-committing the city’s economy to one industry.

“When the earthquake struck in ’64 and we were given an urban renewal project by Mother Nature, we went from having 80 feet of waterfront to 800,” Dunham said. “Prior to that we were almost a one industry town. We swore that we would never be a single industry town again.”

Encouraging further development of the tourism industry might have a tendency to make Seward’s economy even more lopsided, he worried.

“Last winter was the most empty our town has ever been in my life of 75 years here,” he added. “I don’t think we want that.”

Categories: News