The Eaglecrest Ski Area could provide the Juneau with a great business opportunity if the city can figure out a way to extend and expand its operations through the summer.
With more than 1.4 million tourists projected to arrive in Juneau by cruise ship alone, diverting some of those people to outdoor attractions at the ski area could generate a lot of money for both the city and local businesses.
But what would that look like?
That’s the question the Eaglecrest Summer Task Force is trying to answer. The task force consisting of Juneau City Assembly members Wade Bryson, Maria Gladziszewski and Carole Triem, City Manager Rorie Watt and Eaglecrest Board members Jonathan Dale, Bruce Garrison and Mike Satre had its first meeting at City Hall Thursday. Members got an overview of potential attractions that could be constructed at the site.
A gondola, a zip line and mountain biking trails were all ideas presented by Eaglecrest Manager Dave Scanlan at Thursday’s meeting. All of those projects would be expensive to install, roughly $35 million according to a development plan put together by the Eaglecrest Board of Directors, but could generate up to $8 million in annual revenue according to the same plan.
There are many ways to fund the project Scanlan told the task force. Public-private partnerships, co-funding with tourism companies or a public corporation were all mentioned as potential models for the project.
Based on his conversations with cruise ship companies, Watt said there is interest in investing in attractions at Eaglecrest. But right now, those companies are most interested in where they can dock, Watt said. They’d only be interested in investing if they were sure they could long-term dock in Juneau.
Scanlan said he had conversations with local tour operators who were interested in some sort of partnership as well. Though those companies wouldn’t be able to contribute large amounts of cash to the projects’ construction they could commit to bringing tourists to the site.
But there were limitations on what the city can do with the land, Scanlan said. The initial construction of Eaglecrest used funds from the Land Water Conservation Fund, a federal grant program from the National Park Service.
Receiving those funds comes with certain restrictions, including the prohibition of selling the land to private buyers. That presents a potential problem if the city wanted to build lodging like a hotel near Eaglecrest.
“We can work with private companies,” Scanlan said, “but we have to be careful how we do it.”
Lodging is typically found near outdoor attractions like ski areas, Scanlan said, and could potentially provide financial benefits. While there can’t be construction on city land, Scanlan said there was private land nearby that could lead to potential partnerships.
The final decision ultimately rests with the Assembly, which will have to consider multiple factors. The complications before the Assembly were, “more than a Rubik’s cube,” Watt said.
Public feedback will shape that decision. At the beginning of the meeting, Watt said he hadn’t heard much from the public on the subject. Bryson agreed, but he said that as soon as the city says they’re looking to spend $30 million they’ll have more than enough public feedback.
There was one person not with the city or Eaglecrest in attendance at the meeting. People aren’t generally allowed to ask questions during city meetings unless there’s time scheduled in the agenda, but task force chair Gladziszewski allowed it.
Why not put the zip line and other attractions at Sheep Creek, a woman asked, saying that what the task force was discussing would mean, “Eaglecrest isn’t Eaglecrest anymore.” She said the plans being considered would make the area like Disneyland.
Scanlan said that he had heard similar questions from members of the public, but that it wouldn’t make sense to have two separate entities. The woman did not identify herself before leaving.
Thursday’s meeting was an overview of the various projects being considered and the task force decided they would take a deeper look at the financial at the next meeting. Members also discussed commissioning a feasibility study conducted by a private company. The company would be able to vet the plans drafted by the Eaglecrest board and give a better accounting of the costs.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or email@example.com.