Sitka officials vote to accept $1M donation from Norwegian Cruise Line

The bow of a white cruise ship
The Norwegian Pearl tied up at Skagway’s Broadway dock in July 2017. Two more cruise ships are moored at the railroad dock in the background. (Emily Files/KHNS)

The City and Borough of Sitka may receive a $1 million donation from an international cruise line, which the company says comes with “no strings attached.”

When the Sitka Assembly met Tuesday, it voted to accept the donation. But it held off on deciding how to spend the funds.

City Administrator John Leach told the assembly Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. is offering the City of Sitka $1 million to ease the economic effects of Alaska’s ongoing cruise suspension.

Leach said representatives from the company made the offer during a recent phone meeting. His first question: “What are the conditions for the donation?”

“Before I even asked that question, they were very forthcoming and said that this is a ‘no strings attached, no quid pro quo,’” he said. “And they will have no involvement in the distribution decision that the city decides to make.”

Leach said the company plans to make similar donations to other Alaska communities but did not specify which ones. KCAW has reached out to Norwegian Cruise Lines but has not been able to independently confirm the offer.

The cruise line and its subsidiaries have been sending ships to Sitka for over two decades. It has invested heavily in Southeast Alaska, funding cruise dock expansions in Hoonah and Ketchikan, and recently purchasing 3 acres of Juneau waterfront property where it plans to build a new dock.

Leach said he needed the assembly’s approval to accept the money. Then, once the donation is officially received, they could meet again and decide what to do with it.

“You could direct me to provide some input to you on places where we could spend that. We could come back with another ‘Discussion/Direction/Decision’ item at a future assembly meeting with some ideas,” he said. “We could hear from the community for a while, take public input then.”

But member Valorie Nelson already knew where she wanted the money to go. Nelson made a motion to accept the funds and put them toward capital projects or reserves.

“The best thing we can do is capital projects which have been put on the back burner, for now, two years, at least,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that would benefit the quality of life for the residents as well as improve the issues, I think, that tourists visit our community for.”

But Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said he wasn’t ready to commit the money to a specific purpose.

“I want to have a more thorough discussion in the future as to what we do with the donation. I’m happy to accept it, but at this point, I’m uncomfortable allocating it to a certain cause,” Eisenbeisz said. “Although I do agree with the notion that if we don’t put it in a certain pot right now, the requests are going to start pouring in and everybody is going to want a little bit of the free money.”

Nelson’s motion failed 1-4 with members Crystal Duncan, Rebecca Himschoot, Kevin Mosher and Mayor Eisenbeisz voting against it. A second motion to accept the funds without any stipulations passed 4-1 with member Nelson opposed.

Leach said he would contact Norwegian Cruise Line and accept the offer. He said there was no set timeline for when the city should receive the money.

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