When the Sitka Assembly meets tonight (5-25-21), it will consider a proposal from to lease 17 acres of city-owned property. If the Assembly approves it, the Alaska Native corporation plans to partner with a newly formed concession, Adventure Sitka, to develop the property into a tourism attraction.
Karl Potts is the CEO of Shee Atiká Inc. He spoke with KCAW reporter Katherine Rose about the project that could break ground as soon as this summer, should the Assembly give it the green light.
KCAW: So when the Sitka Assembly meets this week, they’re reviewing your proposal to lease 17 acres of city-owned land out Halibut Point Road. Right now you’re calling that project, the “Harbor Point Cruise Development Project.” I’d love some more background on it. How did this project come to be?
Potts: What we want to do, and let me explain a little bit about who the “we” is. Chris McGraw and Dennis McDonnell have created a an organization called Adventure Sitka. As you know, the McGraw Hill family owns and operates the Halibut Point Marine Services, which is euphemistically known as a cruise docks at HPR. And Chris and Dennis approached Shee Atiká a year or so ago and asked if we might be interested in working with them to develop a 17 acre parcel that the City and Borough of Sitka currently own that is, in the same general area as the cruise ship docks are currently.
The purpose essentially, is to develop a recreational tourism and cultural product package that the cruise passengers who are coming off the cruise ships can have access to and participate in, in addition, of course, to what’s already present in in the community of Sitka.
KCAW: So, day to day, what does that look like? What kinds of activities are going to be out there for tourists?
Potts: The design and the operations of the program are basically twofold. We’ll have a cultural component to it, where you’ve got various activities, whether it’s gardening, traditional gardening methods, food preparation. We’ve talked with STA about their interest in sponsoring and promoting some of those more traditional type things. The other aspect to it is that we know that many of the passengers in the community are physically active in are looking for recreation opportunities, in addition to the hiking and biking, and walking that are available. We’re designing what we’ll call an aerial adventure. We’ll have many, many zip lines, some kayaking, canoeing, those types of activities for people to just get out and stretch your legs.
KCAW: Some may have concerns that developing more tourist attractions near the cruise ship terminal could draw tourists away from downtown Sitka and affect our economy. Does your proposal account for that? And if so how?
Right and I think that’s where the locally led part of our mission statement comes in Katherine is that we are very sensitive. So the owners and the developers in this project live in the community, we work in the community, we play in the community, and we want to enhance livability. We want this project to enhance the livability of the community in total. And so, we’ve talked with a number of operators, tour operators in the area, business owners, retailers, community members, and the intention is to create a program, again, that does not duplicate what’s already here. It just enhances it. We’re very much integrating and planning the project so that it’s going to work to benefit the collective whole of the community.
KCAW: It’s looking like 2022 is actually going to be a boom tourism year for Sitka projections are recently suggesting upwards of 400,000 cruise ship passengers. So should the Assembly give you the greenlight? What’s your timeline?
Potts: We can begin this year pick up with our planning and do the construction and have everything ready to go by May of 2022. However, the caveat is that we need to have authorization basically site controls late June, early July. Because there’s permitting. We’ve got to get our crews situated because we’ll be pre-selling this these packages to the cruise ships during over the winter of 2021 and ‘22. And so we’ve got to have some sense of some level of comfort knowing that we’re selling something that passengers will be able to participate in.
Editor’s Note: Shee Atiká Inc. has proposed leasing the 17 acres of city-owned property for $50,000 a year plus $4 per customer toward the city. The Sitka Assembly will consider the proposal at its regular meeting tonight. View the full proposal here.