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By SCOTT BOWLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
The cruise industry is changing in ways that experts believe will increase the number of passengers visiting Ketchikan annually to more than 1.5 million within a decade.
The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday heard a cruise market analysis by Luis Ajamil of the Miami-based firm of Bermello, Ajamil & Partners.
In short, Ajamil told the council that Alaska is one of the most profitable areas of operations for cruise lines; that the next few years will see a spike in the delivery of new ships; that those new ships while not much longer than existing ships, have much larger passenger capacities; and that there are even more cruise lines interested in operating in Alaska now.
The City Council has heard much of this before, and the City of Ketchikan’s recent efforts to plan toward accommodating these changes resulted in a proposed reconfiguration of berths 1 and 2 with new floating docks at an estimated base cost of around $75.9 million.
At Thursday’s special council meeting, Ajamil presented two alternatives to the floating dock concept — both involving the use of gangways and upland structures.
“What if you did not do any in-water work, and you basically use what we use in homeport facilities, which are gangways,” Ajamil said
The gangways that Ajamil refered to aren’t the type of gangways familiar to most Ketchikan port-watchers, which rise from the dock adjacent to the ship and access low-elevation doors in the side of the vessels.
Ajamil’s was referring to movable, enclosed gangways that would access the ship higher — in the primary passenger levels — at extend out perpendicular from the ship to a facility through which passengers could access the ground level. There could be traffic beneath the gangway.
“These ships are actually designed to use the (higher doors),” Ajamil said.
He showed the council an image of a gangway system that’s used at the Bay of Fundy, which he said has the world’s largest tides.
He said gangways would be “much more” efficient, preferable for security reasons, and that the gangways’s usually consist of light, transparent structures and can be stored.
The estimated cost of gangway systems ranged from a base price of $36 million for gangways at Berth 1 and 2, to $60 million for gangways at Berth 2 and constructing the previously proposed floating structure at Berth 1.
Ajamil showed images of versatile gangway systems installed at homeport facilities in San Francisco and Sydney, Australia.
“There is a desire and a way to ... make the waterfront a little bit more attractive to the community while at the same time keeping a working waterfront,” he said.
After the presentation, Council Member Dick Coose said the gangway concept was intriguing, but as someone with 10 years experience with bus transportation on the dock, he had concerns.
“Knowing that our space is strictly limited, as you design this you’re going to have to show me how you can fill up that dock with the buses and we can get them on and off and get the passengers out,” Coose said.
“We’ll do some drawings for you,” said Ajamil, adding that the gangways would be slender at about 15 feet wide and about 75 feet in length. “It will use that space, the 15-by-75 but in return, we won’t have people walking across all this stuff — whatever you might not be able to use with the machine sitting there, you’ll probably be able to make up in efficiencies.”
One possibility would be to incorporate gangway facility drop-points to match specifically to where the buses are going to be, said Ajamil.
Thursday’s public presentation comprised the first two tasks undertaken by Bermello, Ajamil & Partners for the City of Ketchikan.
The two other tasks in the contact, which has an authorized cost of up to $113,600, include developing a financial model for the operations of a new facility, and compiling elements of a financial model to “create the funding and investment strategies of the cruise facilities to meet the city’s objectives,” according to the firms’ contract proposal.
The funding and investment strategy component is to reach out to “potential partners to determine interest and conditions to participate in the investment, operation or development.”
That would include contacting cruise lines and “allied parties that may have an interest in the cruise business in Ketchikan, and determine their interest,” according to the firm’s information.
Information regarding the third and fourth tasks were not presented during the public portion of Thursday’s meetings. The council did go into an executive session after the presentation Thursday to discuss “negotiation options and strategies related to expansion of City Port facilities to accommodate the neo-Panamax class cruise ship vessels that will be calling on Ketchikan over the next several years in accordance with KMC 2.04.025(a)(1 ), which includes the need to discuss subjects the knowledge of which would clearly have an immediate impact on the finances of the city,” according to the council’s unanimously supported motion to go into the executive session.
The council came out of that executive session at about 9:30 p.m.
It then deferred a scheduled second executive session, which was intended to conduct the annual evaluation of City Manager Karl Amylon, who also serves as general manager of Ketchikan Public Utilities.
The council deferred the evaluation until the first regular council meeting in February.