Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's weekly luncheon crowd on an Allen Marine tour boat. Uchytil led Thursday's harbor tour along with City Manager Rorie Watt.

Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's weekly luncheon crowd on an Allen Marine tour boat. Uchytil led Thursday's harbor tour along with City Manager Rorie Watt.

Chamber cruises on the channel, tours waterfront projects

Sun, surf and sandwiches. The Juneau Chamber of Commerce knows how to keep its weekly luncheon crowd happy.

About 60 chamber members and other paying guests set sail aboard an Allen Marine tour boat and cruised up and down Gastineau Channel Thursday afternoon for this week’s luncheon. Though the event took place in a whale watching boat, the event’s attendees weren’t there to watch marine life. They were there for a tour of Juneau’s waterfront development projects.

Port Director Carl Uchytil and City Manager Rorie Watt led the tour, which focused on the new Panamax cruise terminal and the Downtown Sea Walk leading to Bridge Park, the future site of the whale sculpture.

Uchtyil started off the tour by talking about the mural painted on the channel-facing side of the Marine Parking Garage.

The mural, Uchytil said, depicts passengers of the SS Ancon, the first ship to officially pass through the Panama Canal in 1914. Uchytil analogized the Panama Canal to Juneau’s newest dock. He hopes the new Panamax docks — the second will be complete in time for next year’s cruise season — will help grow Juneau’s economy much like the Panama Canal provided a boon for the global economy in the early 1900s.

“The new cruise ship terminal will allow Juneau to remain competitive In the world market,” Uchytil told the tour boat’s passengers. “When the Assembly voted to improve this design, it voted to diversify Juneau’s economy and invest in bigger cruise ships.”

The recently completed dock will now allow Juneau to accommodate 1,000-foot cruise ships. The largest ship the city could previously accommodate was 800 feet. Uchytil said that the industry is trending toward larger ships, so the two new docks, a $54 million investment, represent an investment in the city’s future.

A recent McDowell Group study found that cruise passengers spend an average of $180 per person in the city while their in town, Uchytil said.

“About a quarter of all our sales tax can be directly attributable to passengers coming off of cruise ships,” he added.

State marine passenger excise tax money accounts for the majority of the Panamax-dock project’s funding.

As the tour boat headed up the channel, toward the Douglas Bridge, Watt took over as emcee to talk about the ongoing Bridge Park construction. From the water, the lunch crowd could see excavators working on the man-made island, a facet of the Sea Walk, and the foundation for the Whale Sculpture.

Watt explained that the Sea Walk was part of the city’s Long-Range Waterfront Plan, which it adopted in 2004. Though Cruise Lines International Association Alaska recently sued the city over its use of local head tax fees to construct the artificial island and Bridge Park, Watt said that the city is working on “a worthy, worthy, project” that it should be proud of.

“We charge a fee to passengers that visit our port, and we charge that fee so we can provide services to them,” he said as the tour boat passed Bridge Park. “We adopted a waterfront plan, and we’ve stuck to it. Here we are 12 years later, and you can see we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

Former Juneau Chamber of Commerce President Lance Stevens, front, and other tour passengers look across the channel at Bridge Park, the future site of the bronze whale sculpture on Thursday.

Former Juneau Chamber of Commerce President Lance Stevens, front, and other tour passengers look across the channel at Bridge Park, the future site of the bronze whale sculpture on Thursday.

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