Cruise company backs Alaska Railroad’s plan to replace Seward dock

Seward Harbor
The Seward Harbor on April 16, 2024. (Jamie Diep/KBBI)

The Alaska Railroad Corp. is moving forward with plans to replace a nearly 60-year-old passenger dock in Seward. The $137 million project is for one of three docks in the city operated by the company and it handles all of Seward’s cruise ships.

Alaska Railroad Company external affairs director Meghan Clemens said putting in a new dock is overdue.

“We’re looking at this investment as a 50 year asset for Seward. And to that end, we want to be sure that this new dock is going to be able to accommodate growth into the future as that works for both the industry, and for Seward and the Kenai Peninsula,” she said.

The proposed project includes an almost 748-foot floating dock and 60,000-square-foot terminal building. While the planned dock is only slightly longer than the existing one, the new terminal would be more than double the size of the current building.

Local developer The Seward Company designed the space large enough to hold all cruise ships that sail the state now. Clemens said the terminal building — which also acts as a transition space for cruise passengers in the summer — will serve more than just tourists.

“We think it’s both going to serve customers as they’re embarking or disembarking on the cruise ship, as well as be a great asset for the community of Seward that holds a lot of community events at the terminal building during the offseason,” she said.

The project is being funded by revenue bonds, which must be approved by the state Legislature. The Legislature approved $60 million in bonds for the project in 2022, and the railroad company requested additional bonds worth $75 million this year.

House Bill 122 and Senate Bill 105 are currently in the House and Senate finance committees, respectively. Passing the bills will allow the company to take on the bonds to fund the project. No state funds will go towards the project.

To secure the debt from the bonds, the company signed a 30-year agreement with cruise ship company Royal Caribbean International. This commits the cruise line to using the dock throughout that time and guarantees the minimum amount of money needed each year to pay off the debt. Clemens says an agreement of this length is unprecedented in the state.

According to a port schedule from Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group for cruise lines that Royal Caribbean is a member of, Royal Caribbean cruise ship Radiance of the Seas is scheduled to stop in Seward 10 times this season. Last year, 87 cruise ships went through the docks, bringing nearly 200,000 people to the coastal community, according to a press release from the railroad company.

If the Legislature approves the additional bonds, construction is slated to begin in the fall of 2025, with the goal to open the following summer.

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