Cruise line donation at Juneau waterfront aids Huna Totem’s cultural tourism expansion in Alaska

Property purchased for $20 million in 2019 would include cruise ship dock, retail, parking and seawalk link

By: - August 25, 2022 5:00 am
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced on Aug. 23, 2022, that it is donating a significant piece of undeveloped waterfront property in Juneau to Huna Totem. The 2.9-acre piece of property is located at Egan Drive and Whittier Street. (Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority photo)

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced on Aug. 23, 2022, that it is donating a significant piece of undeveloped waterfront property in Juneau to Huna Totem. The 2.9-acre piece of property is located at Egan Drive and Whittier Street. (Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority photo)

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced on Tuesday that it is donating a significant piece of undeveloped waterfront property in Juneau to Huna Totem, an Alaska Native corporation.

In 2019, the cruise line paid $20 million for the property, which was appraised for less than a fifth of that amount. 

Mickey Richardson, Huna Totem’s director of marketing and public relations, said the 2.9-acre Juneau donation was a surprise.

“Our whole group was really in disbelief. They paid $20 million for the property. It’s in the heart of the downtown and it’s just a beautiful canvas,” he said.

Huna Totem has been expanding tourism development in Alaska since 2004, when it opened Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, a cruise ship port and visitor attraction complex.

In a press release, executive vice president and general counsel for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Dan Farkas said Huna Totem “was the right stakeholder to lead this effort” and the partnership would ensure “that the development of the land is done in a way that is respectful and representative of the rich history and culture” of Juneau.

A Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson said the company would not comment on the donation beyond the press release.

Huna Totem, formed in 1972 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, has about 1,560 shareholders who mainly live in Hoonah and Juneau, according to Richardson. It’ll be partnering with Juneau Native urban corporation Goldbelt Inc. to assist with the development and operations of the waterfront property.

Richardson said land is a core element of the culture, especially for the A’akw Kwáan people.

“This was some of the areas that they originally settled from when they moved to the downtown area during the mining era of the community. So having this land and for it to be held and owned and operated by a Native corporation means, for many generations to come, this land will continue to add value and cultural significance to the community,” Richardson said.

The Juneau-based corporation plans to pursue developing the cruise company’s original intent for the waterfront property located at Egan Drive and Whittier Street – a cruise ship dock. With the donation, Norwegian Cruise Line would receive preferential berthing rights.

Conceptually, the facility would also have an underground bus parking facility and food and beverage retail, as well as elements from the City and Borough of Juneau’s waterfront plan, like public park space and a connection between the city’s two seawalks. The dock, which is adjacent to a U.S. Coast Guard facility, would support the Coast Guard as well.

Expanding cultural tourism

The Juneau project fits in Huna Totem’s overall plan to expand cultural tourism throughout the state. 

“Our goal for the facility is really to highlight the history and diversity of the culture that’s in Juneau and that comes from design elements, creating art spaces within the facility, and we’re working with Goldbelt to help make sure that we’re falling in line with the history of the place,” Richardson said.

Huna Totem wants to expand cultural tourism opportunities from Seattle up through the interior of Alaska. It’s partnering with Norwegian Cruise Line for a port facility in Whittier that would accommodate two ships and serve as both the start and end points for a cruise. It’s scheduled for completion at the end of 2024.

In February of this year, Huna Totem partnered with Alaska Native Corporation Doyon Limited, which is headquartered in Fairbanks, to form Na-Dena’, a joint venture focused on expanding sustainable tourism in Alaska, according to a press release. It has majority ownership of Alaska Independent Coach Tours, which operates in Southeast Alaska ports as well as in Seattle. Richardson said Na-Dena’ is looking to increase lodging and transportation options as the Whittier facility launches.

The corporation wants to “take the success of Icy Strait Point and the Icy Strait Point model, which is to create jobs and to have local ownership within our Native communities, and spread that model throughout Alaska to create additional opportunities for other Native corporations and other villages similar to Hoonah,” Richardson said.

In Klawock, Huna Totem has partnered with local Native corporation Klawock Heenya to build the first cruise ship dock on Prince of Wales Island, set to welcome ships in May 2023. 

Juneau’s waterfront plan

Before beginning development of the property currently assessed at $7.37 million, Huna Totem first needs to go through a public process with the City and Borough of Juneau for a permit that would determine how the site can be used, then for a tidelands lease. It plans to submit an application for what’s known as a conditional use permit before the end of the year.

The city recently amended its long-range waterfront plan to allow for a cruise ship dock to be located on the waterfront property, subject to a number of criteria.  

Alexandra Pierce, tourism manager for the City and Borough of Juneau, said some of the conditions are beyond the control of any one cruise line or company. They aim to prevent things like “hot berthing,” when two cruise ships swap places at the same dock in the same day.

“They are larger community things that we need to get agreement on from the industry, things like eliminating scheduled hot berthing and setting a five-ships-a-day limit,” she said. 

Pierce said the city is working on negotiated agreements with the industry on these issues.

Huna Totem’s goal with the cruise ship dock facility would be to help eliminate hot berthing, “because those ships then are running at anchor in the downtown as opposed to being parked and not running,” Richardson said. “So our goal is to alleviate those pressures.”

Richardson said Huna Totem is exploring newer technologies for some form of shore power to allow ships to shut down while they’re in port “while not drawing on the city’s power supply.” 

Pierce said she’s looking forward to dealing with local entities during the public process.

“I think having local entities develop this property will hopefully create a better response to community questions and concerns,” she said.

It’ll be up to the Juneau planning commission to approve or deny the conditional use permit as it weighs Huna Totem’s application against the city’s waterfront plan. 

If the city doesn’t approve development of a cruise ship dock, Richardson isn’t sure what Huna Totem or its project partner Goldbelt would do with the property.

“We’d have to cross that bridge at that time,” he said. “As the two Native corporations in town that have made a core business out of tourism, we would just be extremely disappointed.”


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Lisa Phu
Lisa Phu

Lisa Phu covered justice, education, and culture for Alaska Beacon. Previously, she spent eight years as an award-winning journalist, reporting for the Juneau Empire, KTOO Public Media, KSTK, and Wrangell Sentinel. She's also been Public Information Officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, lead facilitator for StoryCorps Alaska based in Utqiagvik, and a teacher in Tanzania and Bhutan. Originally from New York, Lisa is a first generation Chinese American and a mom of two young daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected].