Session's timing erases economic bonus

Legislature's visit conflicted with annual conference

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2006

A special legislative session in the middle of November could have meant a welcome bonus for Juneau hotels and restaurants - any other year.

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Unfortunately for downtown hoteliers, Gov. Frank Murkowski called the session for Nov. 13, at the same time the Alaska Municipal League was holding its annual conference here.

That gathering brought 360 delegates from Alaska's cities to Juneau during the same week the legislative session was scheduled.

"We were already booked up, and I think everyone else was too," said Gerd Krause of the Hotel Baranof downtown. There might have been rooms available in the Mendenhall Valley, he said.

The conference tied up every available downtown hotel room for its 360 attendees, said Jeremy Woodrow, Alaska Municipal League spokesman.

"We had the hotels blocked and booked four months ago," he said.

The league was dismayed to hear the special session had been called at the same time, he said.

"The governor obviously knew we were having our conference at the same time," Woodrow said. "When the governor called a special session we just rolled our eyes."

Some legislators and staff reported rooming together or staying with friends in Juneau instead of hotels.

Some restaurants might have been able to benefit, but even that was limited by the shortness of the session and poor weather.

"It wasn't that big a deal," said Bettye Adams of the Alaskan Hotel & Bar.

"I don't think there was much of an impact," she said. "Maybe if there had been more staff here."

The year's fourth session, which concluded Monday, was also on a single topic and didn't draw the numbers of lobbyists and citizens that a full session does.

On Nov. 7 Alaska voters narrowly approved a measure limiting the length of the legislative session to 90 days. Juneau residents strongly opposed the measure.

Some of the measure's opponents fear that will simply cause more special sessions, and that this year's record four sessions may become a regular occurrence.

If sessions take place during the summer, however, their economic impact will probably be lost in the tourist crush.

That's what happened last summer, when a special session was called at the height of the tourist season, said Larry Spencer of Spencer Realty.

Spencer manages a nonprofit which built housing for legislators in an effort to make the city more welcoming as a capital. In the summer that housing is rented out to people in the tourist industry, however.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com



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