Green space, locally-owned businesses and a focus on arts and culture emerged as some of Juneau residents’ top priorities for Norwegian Cruise Line’s proposed dock project on the downtown waterfront during a public meeting.
Howard Sherman, the NCL executive spearheading the project, met with Juneauites for the second time Wednesday evening after a previous public meeting on Nov. 18, during which the company asked the public for feedback on draft plans for the site. The plans, which were drawn up by Norwegian’s local design partner, MRV Architects, included the proposed position of the dock and potential features such as a completed seawalk, park space and several buildings.
Having shops and amenities built for locals is a priority for the company, Sherman said.
“I call that authenticity, and authenticity means something very different depending on where you are,” he said. “If you build for tourists, it’s often not enjoyed by anyone.”
Results of surveys taken before and during Wednesday’s meeting show a strong preference toward year-round access to green space, event and arts and culture space and locally-owned businesses such as restaurants that operate year-round. A four-story building is included in MRV’s plans, but what that space would be used for remains undecided. Housing was a popular choice, but what kind of housing wasn’t stated.
Wednesday’s meeting was well attended, showing more than 150 participants at one point. Paul Voelckers, president of MRV, said roughly 180 attended the previous meeting.
Additional ships anchoring in the harbor and Juneau’s carrying capacity, the number of tourists it can adequately manage, were top concerns for many residents. NCL and it’s local partners, MRV and PND Engineers, have said navigation studies of ship movements in the harbor show that if the dock were built, an additional cruise ship anchoring in the harbor wouldn’t be possible.
“We’re not changing the number of folks that are coming,” Sherman said. “We’re just changing where the buses are.”
Residents are concerned about ships anchoring in part because those ships must continue to run their engines while anchored, which negatively affects the environment. Residents were also concerned that having an additional ship at anchor, bringing the total number of ships that can be docked in Juneau to six, would worsen congestion downtown and strain city services.
Once NCL submits applications for permits to the Army Corp of Engineers the U.S. Coast Guard, which oversees navigation in the Juneau harbor, will conduct a navigational safety assessment, Capt. Stephen White, commanding officer for USCG Sector Juneau said in an email to the Empire.
Part of that assessment looks at impacts to waterways and anchorage areas and will allow for public comment White said. Once that has is completed USCG will provide recommendations to the ACE to assist with their decision-making process,” he said.
“The Coast Guard has not provided any endorsement for this project but we really appreciate NCL and MRV reaching out to share their plans with us,” White said. “Communication among the Coast Guard, maritime stakeholders, and our port partners is key to ensuring the safety and security of all waterways in Southeast Alaska.”
Sherman said it is important to the company to have Alaska Native art and culture reflected in the site and has named the project Auke Landing in recognition of the Indigenous people who lived on the site. Sherman said at the previous meeting he decided on that name after meeting with Sealaska Heritage Institute who educated him on the local history of the site. Norwegian chose MRV Architects in part because of their work on SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building which features Alaska Native art in its facade.
“We are very pleased that our developing partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line is assisting us in implementing an SHI goal ‘to promote cross cultural understanding’ within our larger society, SHI President Rosita Worl said in a statement. “We have been further excited to learn about NCL plans to build a dock and facilities that will not only serve the visitors to Juneau but will become a year-round integral part of our community.”
Not everyone’s on board
Some Juneauites are staunchly opposed to the dock, and are working to prevent it from being built. Earlier Thursday, Juneau resident Karla Hart joined anti-cruise activists from around the world to launch a campaign against cruise ship tourism. The Global Cruise Activist Network, which has members in Europe, Australia, North America and the Caribbean, launched Thursday its Rethink Cruise Tourism campaign urging cruise destination communities to push back against the growth of the industry.
Hart was extremely skeptical of NCL’s promises, saying cruise companies often make such claims and then alter them by claiming the company no longer has the money to complete the project as promised.
“They’re in a courting stage, it’s really sad to me that they think they would fall for it, and I think we might,” Hart said in an interview with the Empire.
Hart said cities like Juneau should try to move away from the mass tourism brought by cruise ships for a more intimate, high-quality experience.
“Juneau can’t be both a mass cruise ship destination and high-end individual tourism. Everything that cruise ships have are things that people are paying a lot of money seeking to avoid,” she said.
The City and Borough of Juneau own tidelands NCL would need to build on in order to complete the dock. Hart believes Juneau residents should use that leverage to stop the dock from being built in favor of a different kind of tourism.
Norwegian will continue to hold public meetings and gather feedback. MRV has set up a webpage where recordings of previous meetings and presentation material are available. The webpage can be reached at mrvarchitects.com.
Auke or Áak’w’?
During the meeting, the question of the spelling of Auke came up in the chat box. Asked for clarification, SHI spokesperson Amy Fletcher said the reference “Auke” has been the general term used by the public.
“However the reference ‘Áak’w’ is actually the correct spelling based on the way that the reference is spoken and is now replacing the previous spelling,” Fletcher said in an email. “’Áak’w’ is an accurate replacement for ‘Auke.’ In the Tlingit place names atlas it lists ‘Áak’w’ (meaning ‘Little Lake’) as the place name for Auke Lake.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.