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Juneau's urban Native corporation, Goldbelt Inc., anticipates that the design and permitting on its long-awaited Hobart Bay cruise ship destination will be accomplished this year.
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The estimated $50 million project - 70 miles south of Juneau on nearly 30,000 acres of Goldbelt land - and some of Goldbelt's other new business ventures, were highlighted Wednesday at the corporation's annual shareholder meeting in Juneau.
Shareholders elected one new Goldbelt Board of Directors member, Benjamin Cornell, and re-elected Andrea Cadiente-Laiti and Kathy Polk at the Wednesday meeting. Walter Johns was bumped from the board of directors. Cornell, a former law enforcement officer, won by the largest margin, netting more than 111,000 votes.
Goldbelt's leaders told a large crowd of shareholders assembled at the Tlingit & Haida Community Center that their financial standing has improved after a series of dismal years. Goldbelt netted more than $1 million in profits in 2005. The corporation has "now stabilized," said Gary Droubay, president and chief executive officer.
Goldbelt plans to resume its scholarship program for students this year, with a $50,000 cash influx. Goldbelt also hopes to re-establish shareholder dividends, Droubay said. The corporation is already working on providing dividends to elders, catching up on payments not made to elders in 2003 and 2004, as well as 2005 and 2006 elder dividends, Droubay said.
The Hobart Bay project is an ambitious new venture for Goldbelt, however. Financed by cruise industry investors, the project has been on hold since 2003 while the investors scrutinized the success of the new Icy Strait Point cruise port in Hoonah, said Goldbelt Vice president of operations Bob Martin.
Now, investors are ready to move forward in Hobart Bay, with potential design and permitting in 2006, construction in 2007 and 2008 and operations in 2009, Martin said.
The project, called Wilderness Alaska, is envisioned as an outdoor-oriented cruise ship destination, including activities such as kayaking, Jeep tours, bike trekking, helicopter and glacier trekking tours and whitewater rafting. It would create more jobs than any other Goldbelt project to date, according to Goldbelts annual report.
Shareholders such as David Katzeek remain somewhat dubious of the Hobart Bay project. It seems like pie in the sky, said Katzeek, who attended the shareholder meeting in Juneau.
Katzeek added, however, that he isnt against developing Hobart Bay. Naturally (shareholders) would like to see something develop with employment, he said.
But as a shareholder, Katzeek worries about Goldbelt getting snared in financial liabilities, such as what happened with Goldbelts former tourism operations in Glacier Bay and Misty Fjords.
Goldbelt is now attempting to pay off its old debts and diversify its businesses beyond tourism, Droubay said Wednesday.
Next year, Goldbelt plans to operate a dock at Juneaus Cascade Point as well as provide bus transportation for Kensington Mine workers. Last August, Goldbelt created a new firm, Goldbelt Security Services, to provide security for the Kensington Mine construction. The firm is now also providing nightly patrols to other Juneau businesses.
In 2005, Goldbelt continued to relinquish tourist-dependent businesses that were not performing well. The corporation is selling its Misty Fjords boat tours and it recently closed Juneaus Chinooks Restaurant and leased the space to the new Zen restaurant.
Goldbelt also opened its seventh government contracting firm, called Goldbelt Hawk, in 2005, with operations in Norfolk, Va.
Goldbelt is in the top six Native corporations for the amount of revenue generated from its no-bid, minority-run government contracts, Droubay said. The contracts, called 8(a) contracts, are under attack in Congress, but Goldbelt plans to continue to pursue the contracts as long as they are available, Droubay said.