Task force calls for public comment on future of tourism

City leaders hope future scenarios offer planning insight

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2006

While the Juneau Assembly reviews four future tourism scenarios, what it really needs are recommendations about how to cause or prevent those competing visions, some city officials say.

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Collaboration Juneau invites the public to discuss its envisioned scenarios at 6 tonight in Centennial Hall, in hopes of helping the city visualize its tourism potential, chairwoman Paula Terrel said.

Terrel emphasized that the scenarios are not recommendations on a course of action the city should take.

"The scenarios are stories about possible futures," Terrel said. "The key was to come up with creative responses that create discussion in the community."

"I believe the (scenario) authors will eventually express what the community wants in regards to tourism development so I will encourage them to continue the public forums," Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said. "But what the Assembly needs are specific action steps to move forward with planning Juneau's tourism future."

Collaboration Juneau's stated goal is creating a common vision of what role the tourism industry should have in the community. Board members have included representatives of the tourism industry, private citizens and employees of nonprofit agencies

Juneau Assembly member David Stone said the scenarios may lead to worthwhile options that the city could use in managing tourism issues.

"The results of the group's work may aid in managing downtown congestion, the waterfront and to reconfirm where we are going," Stone said.

That could mean helping determine whether the waterfront development plan is meeting the community's needs, what additional measures could be taken to ease summer traffic downtown and whether there is a feeling that Juneau is being "taken over" by tourists in the summer, Stone said. There are also environmental considerations, he said.

In a hypothetical "Summerville" scenario, tourist visits reach the 1.5 million mark during the 2015 season. The area's attractiveness as a tourist destination is enhanced by many of the same improvements residents want for themselves. This includes better transportation, a beautiful and prosperous waterfront, lots of recreational opportunities in a clean environment and an economy that "stands on many legs."

During a "Sugar High" scenario, Alaska cruises boom with the number of visitors topping 1.5 million. Shoreside businesses prosper from the growth, but the average visitor spends less. Congestion leaves less time for shopping. The industry and the community are at odds over congestion, flight-seeing noise, waterfront development and tax issues.

In a "Small is Beautiful" scenario, Juneau remains a city of about 30,000 residents in 2015, but hosts only 500,000 visitors. The city will have planned for and encouraged it, confident that a smaller tourism industry would still be a vital part of a diversified local economy.

"Missed the Boat" is a scenario in which tourism numbers go down to 500,000 in 2015 and most of Juneau's problems are self-inflicted: political gridlock and bitter community fights over investments, taxes, flight-seeing noise, docks and transportation improvements that leave Juneau unable to respond creatively to the challenges it faces as the tourism industry changes.

Stone said Collaboration Juneau has gotten a mixed reaction from the Assembly. Some questioned whether the public could provide much effective comment about the visions, which he described as helpful but not very specific.

"The scenarios have created much discussion and debate regarding tourism's future in Juneau," Stone said. "We are really looking at the congestion downtown during the summer months, which is where many people feel impacted."

The congestion spells money for some, though.

"If tourism drops, then our business would be in trouble," Kathy Maka said. Maka is manager of Juneau Drug Co., which has stores on both Front and South Franklin streets. The stores hire at least seven extra people to meet the increased tourist rush in May, she said.

"We really get slammed when the first ships arrive in May, but we love the business," Maka said. "Sometimes there isn't even room to move around the shop."

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