Publisher Don Smith's editorial column in Sunday's Empire described numerous economic and social problems in Hawaii as a result of a substantial downturn in tourism activity following the September terror attacks. Undoubtedly Hawaii has and will continue to experience negative economic and social impacts if tourism in the 50th state continues to flounder.
Smith's column then raised several points linking the tourism woes in Hawaii with tourism issues in Juneau. Smith's point about the linkage between Hawaii and Juneau, while not completely obvious, can be summarized as describing Juneau as a community divided on how to proceed with tourism and perhaps that Juneau in its "insular oblivion" is missing out on increased business opportunities. Smith then suggests Juneau is "a community that doesn't know what it wants."
I disagree. It seems to me the great majority of Juneau residents support increased economic opportunities associated with tourism. At the same time, a majority of Juneau residents routinely express a desire that increased tourism accommodate local concerns. In this regard, Juneau residents are not different than residents of any other community, including residents of Hawaii. The vast majority of Juneau residents will support increased tourism in our community provided reasonable steps are taken to ensure that increased tourism activity works for local residents and business alike.
There are a number of steps Juneau should take that will enhance our ability to accommodate increased tourism. We should commence active planning to design, finance and build larger cruise ship wharves. The funds necessary for this construction should be paid for by extending the soon-to-expire tonnage tax on cruise ship vessels. Juneau should also build an elegant passenger ship terminal downtown as part of a comprehensive waterfront redevelopment plan.
Plans already underway to increase pedestrian accommodation for tourists along the waterfront should be implemented. Current discussions about acquisition of land for expansion of the State of Alaska Museum to incorporate more display galleries and especially to accommodate the large numbers of seasonal tourists are almost universally supported in Juneau. Plans to make Gold Creek accessible for tourists and salmon (once again), should move forward.
Juneau should also take steps to build a new secure and functional airport terminal. Juneau's current airport terminal is ridiculously small given annual use and especially with high seasonal demand in the summer. As a community we should proceed without delay to enact the plan to build the first heliport to alleviate noise problems associated with seasonal flight patterns.
Juneau residents certainly support increased efforts to build more public use cabins and trails that will attract tourists and be used by local residents. We should also increase our marketing efforts to reach valued independent tourists. Juneau should actively work to establish regular charter flights from and to Europe during the summer similar to the existing flights that currently land in Whitehorse and Fairbanks.
In summary, I think Juneau residents support a large variety of measures that will not only enhance tourism but increase tourism in our town. The trick, so to speak, is to balance the impacts of increased tourism with the considered needs of the local residents. Actually it's not so much a trick that will make our town better for tourists and locals alike as all of us working hard in an intelligent and thoughtful manner on this topic.
Joe Geldhof is a Juneau lawyer.
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