Norwegian Cruise Line Tuesday morning announced that it would donate the waterfront land it owned in downtown Juneau to Huna Totem Corp.
The 2.9-acre lot, purchased with a $20 million bid in 2019 from the Alaska Mental Health Trust, a development group, including Huna Totem and Goldbelt Inc., will develop the land in line with the city’s waterfront plan, building a pier and cruise terminal.
“We’re excited that the decision was made,” said Huna Totem marketing director Mickey Richardson in a phone interview. “Having local ownership and operation of the site makes a lot of sense for Huna Totem and Juneau.”
The process that resulted in NCL donating the land to the Alaska Native corporation began more than a year ago, Richardson said. Huna Totem’s goal is for the terminal and pier to greet the first ships of 2025, Richardson said, but that’s subject to permitting, supply chain and many other interlocked issues.
“We are pleased to be able to donate our property in the heart of Juneau to Huna Totem Corporation to develop a new pier and surrounding facilities,” said NCL executive vice president Dan Farkas in a news release. “Ensuring this project is fully integrated into the local community is incredibly important to us, and as we began planning its development, it became abundantly clear that Huna Totem, owned entirely by Native Alaskans, was the right stakeholder to lead this effort.”
NCL will gain preferential use to the pier once it’s constructed, according to the news release. That means the cruise line will have the right of first refusal for mooring as they schedule their vessels, a process that typically occurs 24-36 months out, Richardson said.
“We are excited to see the project start to move forward regardless of the outcome and whether a dock is actually constructed,” said Alexandra Pierce, tourism manager for the City and Borough of Juneau. “It still ultimately rests with the Assembly and the planning department whether the project is approved.”
Huna Totem and NCL have also partnered for projects elsewhere in Alaska, Richardson said, giving them long experience working with each other.
However, the announcement was not greeted with universal joy.
“I think it’s just ramped things up a notch in a really bad way. I will personally continue to oppose the fifth cruise terminal in downtown Juneau,” said Karla Hart, a local activist focused on limiting cruise traffic’s effects on Juneau. “The ships are already coming to Juneau. The people are getting off the boats and presumably spending money. How is that going to change with a new dock instead of people coming to shore by tenders?”
Hart said that Juneau’s involvement with the cruise industry has been primarily reactive in nature instead of proactive, and that the state of the industry makes committing to a fifth pier downtown a rash course of action, regardless of who owns the pier.
“I don’t care who owns the dock. We haven’t dealt with the impacts of cruise tourism in Juneau yet,” Hart said. “We don’t have any data. We don’t have any management. We don’t have any idea what’s going on.”
The next steps involve working with the Assembly and planning department to get permitting approved, Richardson said. Huna Totem and Goldbelt will work with Jensen Yorba Wall Architects, Alaska Commercial Contractors and Turnagain Marine, all Alaska-based companies, to develop the plan, according to the news release.
“This is an astonishing gift for Juneau and our Goldbelt shareholders,” said Goldbelt president and CEO McHugh Pierre in the news release. “Giving ownership back to the Tlingit people is a tremendous way to honor the culture of this community. We look forward to partnering with Huna Totem to share the values and ancestral history of this land.”
Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt warmly greeted the news, saying he was looking forward to working with Huna Totem and their experience and wide roots in Southeast Alaska. Huna Totem president and CEO Russell Dick also voiced his enthusiasm for the project in the news release.
“Huna Totem is thrilled to partner with Norwegian once again to expand regenerative tourism in Alaska with the development of a new pier in Juneau,” Dick said in the news release. “In following with Huna Totem’s port development model, design and development of the new destination will reflect our guiding principles as Native Alaskans while protecting and preserving the natural beauty of Juneau, empowering our community, and fully supporting the region’s tourism-based economy.”
Hart said that the cruise tourism industry was not an empowering or regenerative one for Juneau in the long run.
“Russell Dick is quoted saying they’re promoting regenerative tourism. There’s nothing regenerative about large cruising,” Hart said. “There’s nothing there that reflects that Juneau is a community beyond a cruise destination.”
The development group is aiming to begin the permitting process in earnest this autumn, Richardson said.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.