Juneau planners approve $150M waterfront project including new cruise ship dock

Part of the Juneau waterfront area known as the subport on Aug. 23, 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KTOO)

Juneau’s planning commission has approved a $150 million development on the waterfront.

In addition to a new cruise ship dock, Huna Totem Corporation’s Aak’w Landing project will include a culture and science center, retail space and underground parking.

Last month, the commission approved Huna Totem Corporation’s permit application to build a new cruise ship dock. At the time, they stopped short of permitting the uplands development, saying they wanted more information – and public input – about the proposed amenities.

On Tuesday, the commission got that public input, and it was mostly in favor of the project.

Kerry Crocker, who leads the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said it could expand job opportunities for the union’s workers. They moor and unmoor ships at the docks downtown.

“These are good-paying jobs,” he said. “They’re living wage jobs. They provide a pension, benefits, healthcare. The additional work opportunity with this project is considerable for us.”

Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the property in 2019 and gave it to Huna Totem in August 2022.

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Huna Totem’s Micky Richardson speaks at the planning commission meeting on Aug. 8, 2023. (Photo by Katie Anastas)

Huna Totem’s original proposal included underground parking, retail space, restaurants and a park, with the use of one area still undecided. The new application proposed filling that space with a 40,000-square-foot culture and science center, built with help from Sealaska Heritage Institute and Goldbelt.

During a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night, 21 people spoke during the public comment period. Most were in favor, saying year-round amenities that promote local art, businesses and Alaska Native culture would be a welcome addition to the waterfront. 

“This project, and the partnership between NCL and Huna Totem, holds transformative potential beyond cultural preservation,” said Carla Casulucan, a Huna Totem shareholder. “It lays the foundation for economic empowerment and sustainable development not just for the city of Juneau and its residents, but also within our indigenous community.”

Those who spoke against the project were concerned about pollution and even more visitors. The city could still enforce its five-ship limit if Huna Totem builds Aak’w Landing, but cruise ships themselves are getting larger. 

“The basic problem facing us now as citizens is not that tourism is wrong or bad, but that there’s too much of it, and we’ve neglected to manage it in a reasonable way,” downtown resident Steve Krall said.

the Juneau Assembly
Juneau residents attend a planning commission meeting on Aug. 8, 2023. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

But Fred Parady, Huna Totem’s chief operating officer, said the project would help with that management.

“Shifting 125,000 people from one side of town to the other is significant in terms of pedestrian traffic flow,” Parady said.

Commissioner Erik Pedersen said the project would help lower tourism’s impact on the downtown area because buses could mostly avoid downtown on their way to the Mendenhall Glacier — which reached its tour capacity halfway through the season.

“It basically provides a great way to unload a ship,” he said.

Housing remained a concern for some commissioners. The zoning of the area allows developers to build both housing and commercial space. But Parady said housing was an option, not a requirement.

The commission voted to approve the conditional use permit application in a 7-1 vote. The only vote against came from Chairman Michael LeVine, who said he wasn’t convinced the project met the requirements of the property’s zoning without housing.

Meanwhile, Juneau resident Karla Hart has filed an appeal for the conditional use permit related to the dock. In her appeal, Hart said the public outreach and environmental analysis were inadequate. The Juneau Assembly will determine whether to accept or reject the appeal at its next regular meeting, on Aug. 21. Public comment on the appeal will not be accepted. 

Even if the project moves forward, the Assembly would still need to approve a lease of the city-owned tidelands before Huna Totem could build a dock.

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