Goldbelt struggling, but making progress

Native corporation loses $3.5 million during past year, hopes to break even this year

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2001

Goldbelt Inc. is making progress in efforts to pull out of financial losses, although a weak tourism market is adding to difficulties, President and CEO Gary Droubay said.

Shareholders in Juneau's urban native corporation gather June 2 for Goldbelt's annual meeting where the results of this year's board of directors election will be announced. Three seats are open on the nine-member board.

The company recorded losses of approximately $3.5 million dollars last year, which is an improvement over a $4.5 million loss the year before. Goldbelt is hoping to break even this year, but challenges exist, Droubay said. The company hasn't issued dividends since 1999.

Goldbelt board of directors candidates

THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

Returning Goldbelt to profitability, issuing dividends and shareholder hire are some of the top priorities listed by candidates running for three seats on the companys board of directors, according to proxy statements.

As of Friday, nearly 80 percent of Goldbelts nearly 3,200 shareholders had voted in the election, according to Todd Antioquia, director of corporate communications. Shareholders who submit a valid proxy by Thursday or ballot at the annual meeting will receive $50, he said.

The companys 27th annual shareholder meeting is at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Tlingit & Haida Community Center in Juneau. Del Cesar, Edith McHenry and Carl Nelson are incumbents in the race.

Candidates for office are:

Tim Ackerman, 42, a law enforcement/harbor and port officer for the city of Juneau.

Alberta Aspen of Juneau, 60, who owns A.J. Aspen Tax Service.

Alice Bugni of Kodiak, 49, a cookbook author and webmaster.

Del Cesar of Juneau, 61, Vice President of Administration for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

Franklin Lee Jimmy of Ketchikan, 34, a forestry tech with the U.S. Forest Service.

Glenn D. Johnson of Hoonah, 54, postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service.

Edith McHenry of Juneau, 53, a program support specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Office of General Counsel.

Carl C. Nelson of Juneau, 63, a retired data network services manager with the state of Alaska.

Bill Tompkins of Juneau, 70, a retired manpower specialist with Tlingit-Haida Central Council.

Lino Barril of Kent, Wash., 70, a retired senior manager for the state of Alaska. Barril has given Goldbelt a notice of intent to withdraw from the race.

"With the economy in the Lower 48, we've seen a weakness in summer reservations for our cruise ships. It's going to be a challenge," he said.

A decline in independent travelers is expected to hurt Goldbelt's largest subsidiary, Glacier Bay Tours & Cruises, Droubay said. Glacier Bay operates four small cruise ships and Glacier Bay Lodge. Disappointing profits have led Goldbelt to hire a new president for the company, move administrative functions from Seattle to Alaska and integrate marketing efforts with Goldbelt's Juneau programs, Droubay said.

Glacier Bay operates the Wilderness Adventurer which ran aground in summer 1999.

Despite a lukewarm tourism market, Goldbelt is working on several projects that could help its bottom line.

The company has diversified its holdings with CP Leasing, a Washington, D.C.-based government contractor. The company delivered 148 Ford pickups to the Internal Revenue Service in February under a three-year lease and has signed a $1.2 billion, five-year contract with the National Institutes of Health, according to Droubay. The new contract will allow NIH hospitals to lease computers and medical equipment from the company. CP Leasing is Goldbelt's biggest venture outside of tourism, Droubay said.

In addition, the company is close to a deal with a major cruise line to develop property at Hobart Bay for a "private island" concept. The agreement would allow the cruise line's passengers to use the remote area for hiking, biking and other activities, Droubay said.

The company also is working with investors to build an "Immersavision" theater in Ketchikan. Goldbelt has finished a movie about a young Tlingit woman who graduates from college and returns to Alaska with her husband that will be shown in the high-tech theater.

"It should be in place next year. The movie has been produced, so this will give us the ability to utilize a product we've already made," Droubay said.

In 2000, Goldbelt sold property on Admiralty Island to the Nature Conservancy for $925,000, according its annual report. Goldbelt purchased the land 1997 to trade for timber land at Hobart Bay, but a deal with the U.S. Forest Service fell through, Droubay said. In addition, Goldbelt sold two Anchorage apartment complexes to a private investor for $3.3 million and a $400,000 gain, according to the report.

Other company highlights include:

Auk Nu Tours: Goldbelt acquired a 100 percent interest in the company in February. Goldbelt and Allen Marine had been partners in the venture which operates a ferry to Gustavus and a Tracy Arm tour.

Alaska Cruises: The Ketchikan-based tour company experienced difficulties in 2000 after a good 1999 season because of Taquan Air's bankruptcy. With a stabilized floatplane market in Ketchikan, the company's fly-cruise packages should rebound, Droubay said.

The Mount Roberts Tramway: The tram lost about $300,000 last year, an improvement over previous years, Droubay said. The number of cruise ship passengers who purchase tickets on the tram continues to increase and the company has made improvements to its restaurant to attract local residents, he said.

"We continue to grow the revenue and control operating expenses. We think it will definitely pay off. It has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge," Droubay said.

Land at Echo Cove, Hobart Bay and West Douglas remains intact, awaiting development. Droubay said. The company supports a second channel crossing and a proposed golf course planned for Douglas Island, he said.

"With the future, we see additional profitability from CP Leasing and development in Hobart Bay, and the possible sale of other tourism investments which have been non-profitable," Droubay said.

Board of Directors Vice Chair Kathy Polk is optimistic about the company's prospects.

"In the long run, we're going to be successful. Right now we're weeding out businesses that aren't working too well and concentrating on businesses that we want to succeed like the tram, the hotel and our boats," she said.

Board member and corporate secretary Andrea Cadiente-Laiti also is hopeful about the company's direction. Moving from timber to tourism has brought challenges, she said.

"It will take some time to turn the corner," she said.

While dividends have not been issued in recent years, Goldbelt has provided shareholder benefits in the form of scholarships and employment, Cadiente-Laiti said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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