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Potential action on port development: City Council to hold special meeting

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan City Council has planned a special council meeting Wednesday night, during which it could take action toward advancing port development.

Luis Ajamil of Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc. — the city's port design consultants — will present on the request for proposals process that's essential to garnering cruise industry financing for port and uplands infrastructure development.

According to a memo from Assistant City Manager Lacey Simpson, the intent of the presentation is to seek direction of the council to develop a request for proposal. If the city receives direction from the council, an RFP can be finalized within 30 days, according to the memo.

Next, the council could approve the RFP and ascertain what sort of interest the industry has in the project.

Up until this point the city has received feedback that the industry is eager to work with Ketchikan.

According to the agenda for council meeting on Wednesday, the meeting will loosely follow the format of a regular council meeting, meaning there will be an opportunity for public comment at the start.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.

The meeting was initially scheduled for June 11, but was canceled in the wake of a private company's announcement of plans to construct a two-berth dock in Ward Cove.

The private company, Ward Cove Dock Group — owned in part by Dave and Andrew Spokely and the Binkley family — is teaming with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings on the project.

During a City of Ketchikan public forum June 25 to hear community feedback on port development and tourism management, Simpson explained the cancellation.

"This really took the council aback," Simpson said of the Ward Cove dock announcement. "And we decided to cancel that meeting, because the whole premise of our project was building further capacity at (Ketchikan's) port. So with the addition of two berths in the community, we really needed to take a step back and discuss if that level of capacity building was really necessary."

The Ward Cove Dock Group was invited to the forum on June 25 and told the Daily News they were working on a presentation the day before, but did not attend.

At the forum, many community members expressed a desire to slow expansion of the port given the recent announcement of a potential dock out in Ward Cove.

It is unclear how or if this community feedback has since been incorporated to the city's work with Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc.

The Daily News contacted the Ketchikan city manager's office for comment, but no response was received by press time Tuesday.

The city had been exploring a port reconfiguration plan in which Berth 1 would handle neopanamax, the largest class of cruise ships, and Berth 2 would then accommodate panamax ships. The design utilized 450 foot barges that are offset from the fixed berth.

Initial estimates of the project were around $40 million. Two independent cost estimates by Moffat & Nichol and Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc., put the project above $90 million, not including upland improvements. The city estimated the total project cost at $150 million.

Uplands development or improvement is any port infrastructure that's adjacent to the berths that serves to support port industry and enhance the visitor experience — sidewalks, roads, paths, restrooms, lightning, landscaping, public art, wayfinding, signage and other communications, parking areas, staging, anything that helps disperses people farther through downtown.

Up until this point, the city had been considering a bond vote on a potential project, but the cost likely would double its bond debt, the council decided to pursue a request-for-proposal strategy. In May the council directed city staff to work with Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc., to develop an RFP strategy.

At the community forum a couple of weeks after the announcement of the two-berth dock in Ward Cove, Simpson said that the council still believes that some level of reconfiguration of the port is still necessary and that uplands improvements will still be necessary as increased numbers of vessels and passengers call on Ketchikan.

At the behest of the city, Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc. performed a market analysis related to tourism growth and potential port reconfiguration projects and strategy. Their report estimated that Ketchikan could see as many as 1.7 million passengers annually by 2029.

At the June 25 public forum, Mayor Bob Sivertsen said this was a legacy project for the community of Ketchikan, one in which the community would only have the opportunity to get it right once.

He said a common path in the industry is for cruise industry to invest in core infrastructure for preferential berthing and to ensure they have the opportunities to work in a specific region.

"This doesn't mean we give up ownership of it (the berths)," said Sivertsen. "We want to know what’s out there. But we have to come up with some kind of tentative design."

Sivertsen said that about 250,000 passengers are moving out to Ward Cove, based on the number of people Norwegian Cruise Lines brings into Ketchikan during the summer.

"So that's going to leave some empty dock space in Ketchikan," Sivertsen said. “And there'll be other people that will be filling them. And I think that within two, three years, we won't have a problem."

Sivertsen said that one of the challenges is that Ketchikan is an isolated community.

"Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Binkley family and Ward Cove have an inside track into the cruise industry, Sivertsen said. They know what's going on, they have a finger on that pulse. Same way on berth 4 with (Survey) Point Holdings there and those guys they have connections — and they work with CLAA (Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska), the City of Ketchikan has no one in that field right now, so we're relying on our engineers to help us through this process."