View of St. Michael’s Cathedral on Lincoln Street in downtown Sitka (KCAW Photo)

When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (3-9-21), it voted to develop a tourism master plan.

With Canada’s cruise ship ban in effect through the beginning of next year, it’s looking like 2022 will be the next big year for Sitka tourism. And it could be really big. The vote directed the city’s Planning Commission to develop a plan that could address the logistical challenges a booming cruise ship season might pose for the city.

Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot said the hope is to develop a plan that works for tourists and for residents. 

“We have heard we may have a major influx of visitors as soon as 2022,” she said. “I’m thinking of questions like transportation for visitors, transportation for Sitkans…I envision something that would address what we do when there are 1000 visitors in town and when there are 10,000 visitors in town.”

Member Valorie Nelson wondered if the information was already available in the city’s comprehensive plan. City administrator John Leach said the plan would serve to address more of the “tactical” concerns that the comprehensive plan doesn’t tackle. 

“We want this plan to focus on things like, where if we get two or three cruise ships in town at the same time, and we have this large influx of people, should we consider, you know, shutting down Lincoln Street for a period of time so pedestrians can visit the stores and walk?” he said.

City Planning Director Amy Ainslie said projections for 2022 are looking very promising.

“I remember growing up and having three, four ship days and it was busy downtown but it didn’t seem to be unmanageable,” she said. “So I went and pulled as many passenger numbers I could from the Chamber of Commerce…and the largest passenger year we’ve had is around 280,000 passengers  in a single season. The forecast that we’re starting to see right now is upwards of 400,000 passengers.” 

Ainslie said that while it isn’t unusual for Sitka to host two cruise ships in a day during the summer season, Alaska is expecting the arrival of bigger vessels like “Neopanamax” cruise ships in 2022, which can hold upwards of 4000 passengers. Two of those in a day is very different from two smaller Holland America boats, Ainslie said. 

The assembly unanimously voted to direct the planning commission to begin developing a tourism master plan.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly:

– Approved a purchase agreement for raw water in bulk for export between the city and borough of Sitka and Arctic Blue Waters Alaska Inc. on a 4-3 vote with members Valorie Nelson, Kevin Mosher and Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz opposed

-Unanimously appointed Stephane Hawney to an unexpired term on the Health Needs and Human Service s Commission and Geraldine Laux to a three-year term on the LEPC

-Unanimously reappointed Chris Ystad to a two-year term on the Gary Paxton Industrial Park Board, and Robert Sam to a three-year term on the Historic Preservation Commission

-Unanimously approved the minutes of the Feb 18, 23 and 25 assembly meetings

-Unanimously approved a new standard marijuana cultivation facility license application for AKO Farms

-Unanimously approved a transfer of ownership application from Anne Cleaver Weed Dudes to Weed Dudes Incorporated 

-Unanimously approved a liquor license renewal application for The Channel Club