With a lapsed contract, the Sitka Assembly has voted to extend the Chamber’s marketing work month-to-month for the summer. Many business leaders feared such uncertainty would harm the Chamber’s work. Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce was recognized by the Alaska Chamber as the “Local Chamber of Commerce of the Year” in 2017. (Photo from visitsitka.org)

The local Chamber of Commerce will continue marketing Sitka to outside visitors, but only on a month-to-month basis this summer. Their contract with the city expired at the end of June, and the Sitka Assembly wants to give the city more time to negotiate new terms. Several business owners said they’re worried a month-to-month arrangement will negatively impact tourism dollars.

Downloadable audio.

(Music – “Open your eyes to another world. Come live in the moment”)

The video on the Visit Sitka homepage tugs at the heartstrings…

(“More than you can imagine. Closer than you think.”)

And hopefully the purse strings. In 2015, the Sitka Chamber of Commerce took over visitor services for the city, marketing Sitka as a destination for cruise lines, conventions, and solo travelers.

Executive Director Rachel Roy spelled out the success of their non-profit, Visit Sitka, in numbers. “Sitka has seen a 47% increase in visitors, 22% increase in bed tax revenue, and a 12% increase in sales tax revenue,” Roy said.

While visitors continue to flock to Sitka’s shores, the “Visit Sitka” contract is in limbo. Expiring on June 30th, the Assembly ran out of time to discuss renegotiating that contract at their June 26th meeting. They took up the issue for the first time at their meeting Tuesday night (7-10-18), entering executive session for 45 minutes.

When they emerged, the Assembly directed City Administrator Keith Brady to negotiate a month-to-month contract instead and report back to the Assembly in early September. This buys the city time to negotiate, what a few called, a “better contract” with the Chamber of Commerce — one the city can truly afford.

“That’s why we’re not rushing on this one here. That’s why were are doing this month-to-month so a better contract will be done,” said Assembly member Ben Miyasato, defending a decision which took a great deal of heat from the business community.  

Over half a dozen citizens decried the month-to-month contract, saying that visitor services was a cornerstone of the local economy and needed a broader time frame than a month to properly plan.

Carol Fraser of Aspen Hotels, which opened a location in Sitka last year, told the Assembly, “If I ran my business month by month, I wouldn’t have anyone staying with us next year. And so it’s crucial we have sustainable marketing funding for the financial viability of Sitka.”

Jim Michener, the co-founder of Alaska Pure Sea Salt, praised the work of Visit Sitka these past three years.“There’s been exponential growth in the quality and exposure they’ve achieved, from getting writers from major publications into this town and the online media…it’s been phenomenal. I truly think that by not funding them completely, we’re going to see enormous losses in revenue in sales tax and all the other taxes you receive,” Michener said.

All on the Assembly agreed that a month-to-month contract was less than ideal, but they held their ground, voting unanimously to keep that arrangement through the summer and consider a long-term contract in September.

To keep the body informed, Steven Eisenbeisz made a motion to appoint an Assembly member as a liason to the negotiations. The Assembly nominated Eisenbeisz for the role.

While the contract negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, a memo in the Assembly packet provides some clues as to what Administrator Keith Brady may be looking for. His memo (Motion and Memo Chamber of Commerce) says the city wants the next contract holder to prioritize marketing Harrigan Centennial Hall and other convention facilities, as well as the winter and shoulder seasons. It also proposes an annual compensation of $300,000, which is less than what the Chamber is paid now.

In other business, the Assembly:

–Received an update from consultants Sarah Cave and Steve Huebner on Sitka Community Hopsital’s RFP process. Three applicants  – Quorum Health ResourcesSEARHC, and Sitka Jet Center– have made their proposals public. Representatives are touring Sitka Community Hospital this week. Their expanded proposals are due July 27th.

–Listened to a presentation from consultant Jill Missal on updates to Sitka’s Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan (Sitka Mitigation Plan). In the event of a natural disaster, the plan keeps a community eligible for FEMA grant funds. Missal discussed the status of different hazard mitigation projects in Sitka and took questions from the Assembly.

–Approved a 30-year lease agreement (Motion Memo and Historical Society Lease) with the Sitka Historical Society to operate a museum inside Harrigan Centennial Hall. The museum will not pay rent for use of that space. The Assembly also waived their utility bill and property taxes for the first two years, with the understanding the museum will undergo a financial review at that time to reconsider the subsidization. The grand opening for the Sitka History Museum is July 26th.

–Voted down a motion to rescind their dismissal of a lease agreement with Trident Seafoods. The company sought space at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park for equipment storage. The Assembly voted that proposal down last meeting (6-26-18), the majority saying it was against the spirit of generating economic development and local jobs at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

–Postponed extending a 5-year lease agreement with Seafood Producers Coop. SPC wants to continue renting cold storage space at the city’s Marine Services Center. The Assembly had several questions about the agreement, prompting them to postpone a decision until more information can be gathered.

–Approved, on first reading, purchasing a new E911 system for $285,000. The city has determined the current system has several points of failure and advised the Assembly to purchase a new one.

–Approved license renewals for Northern Lights Indoor Garden’s marijuana cultivation and retail store, as well as Weed Dudes marijuana retail store

The long-awaited Crescent Harbor playground is now open, thanks to hundreds of volunteers. The playground is fully accessible for children of differing abilities. The Sitka Assembly presented the project leaders a certificate Tuesday night. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

The Assembly also tipped their hat to the Sitka Community Playground, which opened on July 4th and is ADA-accessible. Project leader Bridget Hitchcock thanked the numerous volunteers involved.

“I know a child with special needs and physical disabilities. Her mom sent me a video of her on a swing and playing the musical instruments. I just feel pure joy,” Hitchcock told the Assembly and members of the public while standing alongside playground volunteers. “So thank you Sitka and thanks to this committee. We all made it happen.”

The Sitka Assembly will continue their meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, discussing several proposals affecting sales tax, property tax, and bed taxes. Raven News will live stream the meeting on our Facebook page and will embed the video feed on our website, kcaw.org