A positive step for Juneau’s waterfront




With the controversy surrounding the cruise industry lawsuit over the use of cruise passenger fees, it was gratifying to see the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and the industry working together cooperatively to gain city approval of the long-planned Archipelago Project.

Indeed, the components of this project should help address concerns about managing increasing numbers of cruise passengers as well as pave the way for a major private investment on the Juneau downtown waterfront that will create jobs and a more welcome destination for visitors.

The project is supported by the cruise industry and championed by City Manager Rorie Watt and his staff as a way to improve visitors’ experience and reduce congestion. Watt believes that “cruise ship tourism is a really important part of our economy, and with the growth of passengers we need to have more room on the waterfront for all the activities.”

The approved ordinance allows Juneau to enter into an agreement to purchase property from Archipelago Properties LLC, a private company (a subsidiary of Morris Communications, the former owner of the Juneau Empire), while simultaneously selling municipal property to Archipelago resulting in a net cost to Juneau of $922,175.

The land proposed to be purchased and sold (exchanged) will result in a mutually beneficial property configuration. Following the closing of the land transaction, CBJ and Archipelago will be able to pursue their separate but integrated development plans.

The ordinance was supported by a heavy majority of the Assembly – passing 7-2, with Assembly members Loren Jones and Rob Edwardson objecting.

The transaction with Archipelago will add slightly under half an acre of land to city ownership adjoining the new cruise ship docks – allowing public development of mostly un-utilized submerged tidelands thereby creating more open space for visitors, transportation staging, and community amenities.

The city portion cost of the project including land is approximately $20.5 million and will be funded primarily through fees collected from cruise passengers.

The private development by Archipelago, in which CBJ isn’t involved, is located on the uplands side adjacent to South Franklin Street.  While it is currently an unimproved parking lot, Archipelago plans major improvements including around 20,000 square feet of commercial space – 75% of which would be designated ground floor retail for a variety of tenants as well as kiosks for local food vendors and other small businesses catering to tourism.

The Downtown Business Association and a number of neighboring property owners have publicly supported the project and it should not impact rental rates significantly as it only represents an estimated seven percent increase in the surrounding rental market inventory.

The project is an integral part of the 2018 Marine Park to Taku Dock Urban Design Plan – finalized and developed with the input of Juneau stakeholders and residents during community workshops, stakeholder meetings, and intensive public outreach, including seven public meetings last year.

The city portion of the development includes a transportation staging area and a large public plaza built on an expansive decked-over space on pilings.  A modestly sized shelter structure for seasonal cruise passenger use that could also be available for community events in the off-season is envisioned in a later phase.

This should result in less pedestrian and vehicle congestion on downtown streets, add over $10 million in new taxable commercial property to Juneau’s tax rolls, and generate additional sales taxes for city coffers.

CBJ and cruise industry support of the project was facilitated through mutual negotiation and a skillful allocation of funding sources by city staff.  The use of cruise passenger fees from prior years avoided further litigation while CBJ and CLIA discuss a settlement to determine how future cruise passenger fees are to be spent.

Everyone concerned seems optimistic that issues surrounding the lawsuit can be resolved.

It’s a hopeful sign that negotiations are progressing beyond legal questions involving expenditures and are now focusing on how necessary services and upland improvements benefiting both the city and the industry will be funded going forward.

If the Archipelago Project foreshadows a mutually agreeable settlement between Juneau and CLIA on the larger issues raised in litigation, both sides deserve credit for getting there.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.