Cruising to a different future

Hoonah hopes to host cruise ships

Posted: Thursday, November 07, 2002

The Huna Totem Corp. and Koma Sales Co. LLC hope the draw of an old cannery and a new Native cultural center will convince major cruise lines to incorporate a Hoonah cruise stop in their Alaska itineraries.

The Point Sophia Development Co. LLC, a joint venture between Huna Totem and Koma Sales, announced last week its plans to develop a cruise ship port at the site of the former Hoonah cannery, 1 1/2 miles northeast of Hoonah and 22 miles from Glacier Bay National Park.

Huna Totem is the for-profit Native corporation of Hoonah. Koma Sales is a Juneau-based guiding and chartering company.

"I think each stop in Southeast offers a certain bit of the local Tlingit culture, but I think this one will offer them more than any others," said Johan Dybdahl, president of the Point Sophia Development Co. "Hoonah is the largest Tlingit village in Southeast, and we also don't believe there's any other place that will offer a look at a cannery facility."

The stop will accommodate one cruise ship per day, and will offer passengers whale and bear watching excursions, mountain biking, hiking and shopping, as well as cultural presentations and tours of the cannery, which closed in 1953.

"We steadfastly maintain that we want to maintain an authentic-type focus on the whole thing," Dybdahl said. "We don't want a Disneyland-type stop."

The Huna Totem Corp. has been developing plans for the cruise stop since it bought the cannery property in 1996. The stop will be financed by Huna Totem and Koma Sales. Funding has not been found yet for a cruise ship dock, but ships will be able to anchor in the bay until a dock is built, which promoters hope will be by 2005, Dybdahl said.

The cruise stop will boost Hoonah's economy, Dybdahl said. Although a Miami-based consulting company, Idea Inc., has designed the interiors of the facilities, most of the contracting, including the landscaping, has been handled by Southeast Alaska-based businesses.

Construction of the cultural center has begun, as has rehabilitation of the cannery building, landscaping work, relocation of 1,000 trees at the site, and repairs to docks, Dybdahl said.

The new cruise stop will fit in well with the city of Hoonah's recent attempts to encourage economic development, said City Administrator Keith Bettridge.

"I think there has been some concern that soon the town would be overrun, but I think Point Sophia and Huna Totem are taking that into consideration," he said. "They're looking at addressing the negatives and making it so everyone benefits from the pluses."

Because the stop is within Hoonah city limits, the town would receive sales tax revenue from sales at the site's stores. The site also would provide seasonal jobs. The Point Sophia Development Co. will employ 90 to 100 people at the site, Dybdahl said. The planned 16 to 24 stores on the site, as well as guiding companies in and around Hoonah, will create additional jobs.

Several cruise lines have expressed interest in the stop, Dybdahl said.

"We're talking to all of the cruise lines and we're hoping this will provide a good alternative stop for them," he said.

Cruise lines are always looking for new stops to add to their itineraries, said Erik Elvejord, a spokesman for the Holland America cruise line. But incorporating a new stop is a complicated process.

"We have to be aware of the environmental impact and those requirements," Elvejord said. "There are also timing issues, like whether or not it is a half- or full-day stop ... and what other cruise lines are going - can we be exclusive?"

The stop sounds like it has potential, he said.

"Our mix allows us more so to consider options like (the Hoonah stop)," Elvejord said. "We can cover a lot of territory and we have more options to experiment, add destinations, be creative in our itinerary."

Holland America is setting its 2004 itinerary this fall, and Elvejord did not know whether the Hoonah stop was being discussed.

Brian Major, a spokesman for Norwegian Cruise Line, also thinks the Point Sophia project would be a good candidate for a new stop.

"It sounds like it's a nice possibility," he said. "... The cultural aspects are a strong draw."

A destination usually has to court a cruise line for more than a year to prove the stop offers enough attractions and excursions to satisfy customers, Major said.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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