On Monday, City and Borough of Juneau leaders declined to accept a $2 million donation offered by Norwegian Cruise Line.
In a 3-6 vote, the CBJ Assembly directed City Manager Rorie Watt to ask the company to redirect the money to the Juneau Community Foundation, a local charitable organization.
Earlier this spring, Norweigan Cruise Line announced $10 million in donations to communities hard hit by the pandemic-induced suspension on cruising. Of the total donation, the company offered $2 million to Juneau.
City leaders grappled with the decision, citing the generosity of the donation and the potential for its acceptance to appear as a quid pro quo.
“This one is a tough one,” said Mayor Beth Weldon. “Ultimately, even though it’s a very generous offer, I worry about public trust, so I object. Hopefully, we can give it to the Juneau Community Foundation. I think they are better served than us.”
City leaders worried that accepting the donation was tricky on two fronts. First, the city doesn’t usually receive donations from private corporations. And NCL is in the process of developing a new cruise ship dock on its waterfront property on Egan Drive.
As the project progresses, the city will enter into negotiations with the company as the body able to approve the company’s plans. In addition, the city is connected to the project as a landowner to adjacent areas, the developer of a comprehensive plan for the waterfront and the taxing authority for the site.
Assembly members Greg Smith, Maria Gladziszewski and Wade Bryson all voted to accept the donation, seeing the donation differently.
“I move that we accept it and have a conversation about what to do with it at some later date. In terms of asking NCL to send it elsewhere, we are the decision-makers in Juneau. We’ve spent a year making decisions about COVID in the community,” Gladziszewksi said.
Bryson agreed, saying that rejecting or redirecting the donation “is the ultimate looking a gift horse in the mouth” situation.
“We can’t do anything illegal. We can’t set up a side deal. We can’t do anything without the public being involved. Taking that $2 million changes not one number on either side,” Bryson said.
Changing the recipient
On Tuesday, Howard Sherman, executive vice president of onboard revenue and destination services for NCL, said the company appreciated the direction from the assembly.
“In our relief efforts, we operate by two principles; we want to get funds quickly into the hands of those in need, and to that end, we look for the direction and guidance of the local elected officials as to how best to accomplish that goal,” Sherman said in an email to the Empire. “It is irrelevant to us whether the funds first flow through a municipality or if they go directly to a charitable institution identified by the local officials. We are grateful to the Assembly for identifying a charity that is ideally suited to help the needy in Juneau.”
Amy Skilbred, executive director of Juneau Community Foundation, told the Empire by phone on Tuesday morning that the group would be happy to receive the gift on behalf of the community.
“It’s a great contribution,” she said.
According to the group’s website, the “Juneau Community Foundation is a local charity that promotes philanthropy and effectively responds to the needs of our community to create a healthy, safe, and culturally rich environment.”
Skilbred said that the foundation has experience distributing money to the community.
“We have established a process for giving out grants. We’d have to see whether there were conditions on the gift or instructions. We have 70 different funds, and how grants are given out can vary,” she said.
Absent direction from NCL on using the money, Skilbred said the group’s board of directors would consider how to best allocate the funds.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4981.