Celebration location still up in the air

Sitka has declined to bid, saying it hasn't got room; Ketchikan is on hold

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Months after they were offered a chance to bid against Juneau to host Southeast Alaska's largest Native cultural event, it's unclear whether smaller Panhandle cities are prepared for the spectacle.

Celebration, the biennial festival set in Juneau since its inception in 1982, has received a bid from its traditional host. The Juneau Assembly has offered a $10,000 cash contribution.

The next-largest cities in Southeast Alaska - Ketchikan and Sitka - have either waited to evaluate or declined to bid.

Sealaska Heritage Institute offered its festival for bid Dec. 1. Although Rosita Worl, the institute's vice chairwoman, expressed interest in holding the event in Sitka, Sitka Mayor Marko Dapcevich said the city won't submit a bid.

"We won't have the housing and facilities available for so many people in June," Dapcevich said.

Michael B. Salazar, Ketchikan Gateway Borough mayor, said he is still waiting for the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau and local chamber of commerce to figure out whether the borough's hotels can accommodate an influx of 5,000 people. He is also waiting to see if local businesses would contribute to hosting the event.

Juneau's $10,000 cash bid is in addition to law enforcement's overtime for crowd management.

"We make more financial contributions to Celebration than to other cultural events," Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said. "The event is significant for Juneau. This is an opportunity to celebrate Juneau's heritage. But I felt troubled when I was told that if the Assembly didn't come up with the money, the event would potentially move to another community."

Sealaska is exploring other venues for Celebration 2006 in the hopes of easing the financial burden on the institute, Worl said in a written statement.

"The board of trustees directed that I contact other communities to see what facilities might be available in their communities and also what kind of support they might be able to render the heritage institute in the sponsorship of Celebration," Worl said.

Worl also told the Empire in December that Sealaska needs a a bigger city to host the ever-growing event, raising the possibility of a move to Anchorage.

Worl has not returned phone calls from the Empire to discuss potential bids.

The first Celebration featured 12 dance groups and a total of 150 participants, excluding the audience. Celebration 2004 drew record crowds, attracting about 5,000 people, including 1,700 dancers from Alaska, the Lower 48, New Zealand and Canada. It had to turn nine Native dance groups away because of space constraints.

Sealaska will announce the winning bidder in March.

Juneau's hotel managers said keeping Celebration in Juneau is important for local business.

Jerd Krause, general manager of Baranof Hotel, said although the number of visitors who come to Celebration fluctuates, he normally sets aside 70 rooms for them. The hotel has 196 rooms.

"The town is full when Celebration happens," Krause said. "We, as a community, should go all the way to keep it here and make the visitors feel welcome."

David Hays, operation manager of Goldbelt Hotel, said the hotel's 105 rooms are normally sold out eight months before Celebration. "We begin to take reservation once the event ends," Hays said. "The visitors usually reserve 70 rooms."

Colin Henderson of Super 8 Motel in Ketchikan said if the city of Ketchikan or the Ketchikan Gateway Borough cannot find a way to accommodate Celebration dancers and audience, the citizens will.

"It will be in our best interest if the Celebration comes to Ketchikan," Henderson said. "We are a tourist town. If the visitors surpass the hotels, the community will figure a way out."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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