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Cruise season beginning

Light settles on a table inside Bar Harbor Restaurant on Wednesday. Long occupying an old Norwegian fishing house on Tongass Avenue, Bar Harbor is moving into a larger space in the new development on Berth 4, according to owner Martin Smith. Staff photo by Taylor Balkom

Light settles on a table inside Bar
Harbor Restaurant on Wednesday.
Long occupying an old Norwegian
fishing house on Tongass Avenue,
Bar Harbor is moving into a larger
space in the new development on
Berth 4, according to owner Martin
Smith. Staff photo by Taylor Balkom

By Nick Bowman
Ketchikan Daily News

In the next five months, a flow of people equal to the entire population of Ketchikan will flood through downtown 70 times over.

Welcome, once again, to the cruise season.

Southeast Alaska is easing into it this year, with a series of single ships arriving between Friday and May 9, the first two-ship day. The first five-ship day doesn’t come until May 18.

By season’s end, Sept. 26, ships will have carried about 900,000 people through Ketchikan, or about 20 percent more people than the state’s population.

The lonely first boat — the Ruby Princess and its 3,082 passengers and 1,200 crew — will tie up to Berth 2 at 7 a.m. on Friday.

The Ruby is new to Alaska this year and is a sister ship of the Crown Princess. In terms of passengers, they’re the largest ships to visit the First City.

The Celebrity Solstice remains the largest ship visiting Ketchikan. With a length of 1,040 feet, it’s the only vessel to break 1,000 feet.

Based on the lower berth count of the 38 ships visiting Ketchikan, according to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, the First City will see 892,100 passengers in 2015. The lower berth count is a conservative estimate of passengers and historically increases by about 5 percent by the end of the season.

Even with the lower estimate, 2015 looks to be a stronger year for Ketchikan than 2014, which had a season-end count of 884,503 passengers. In the past 10 years, 2013 remains the record year with a count of 954,685 passengers.

Business

The most visible change to Ketchikan from last year is the development at Berth 4. The two new structures include retail and restaurant space, as well as new office space for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, the on-shore representatives for cruise lines visiting the 49th state.

Berth 4 is owned by Survey Point Holdings, the parent company of Southeast Stevedoring. The construction displaced Alava’s Fish-n-Chowder stand, which now sits on the rim of the downtown tunnel.

Julie’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts and the Tongass Trading Co. have already hung their hats in the new spaces at Berth 4, but another well-known name will make its home there: Bar Harbor Restaurant.

The restaurant is leaving its namesake harbor in about three weeks, said co-owner Martin Smith. Smith and Scott Jones own the restaurant.

It will be a dramatic change for Bar Harbor, which for the past 14 years has served food to customers in what was the living room of a 1920s Norwegian-style home.

Though it will be “very, very hard” to recreate the atmosphere of the existing space, Smith said they’re “not going with any new, trendy looks” with the new location.

“Lots of people have over the years told us we need a bigger space … and it’s one of those things — you get a bigger space, and when you move things are going to change,” Smith said, “but we want them to change as little as possible.”

The spot at Berth 4 will seat about 20 more people than the current location and will serve lunch and dinner. The menu, slightly expanded, will be similar to its existing menu.

Smith and Jones plan to keep possession of their current location, but haven’t decided what comes next for the space.

While the cruise season begins this week, for some the busy season won’t come until later in May.

Johny Gilson, owner of Experience One Charters, sells charters through travel agencies and online, but not on the ships. He said Wednesday that his season runs from mid-May to mid-September.

With ships arriving, Gilson said he’s been turning away customers who want to go fishing in early May. For him, it’s a risk; he can charge visitors for the charter, but risks running bad reviews online when people leave Ketchikan — the Salmon Capital of the World — without catching a fish.

He runs about 100 charters of large groups a season in morning and afternoon shifts, catering to mostly inexperienced fishermen looking to land salmon.

Along with many other charters in Ketchikan, Gilson often takes clients near Ketchikan’s hatcheries to dip into the king salmon run.

While some customers bristle at the $10 king stamp, which benefits Alaska’s hatcheries, Gilson said most “completely understand” why it’s there.

“The salmon you catch today was paid for by somebody probably four years ago,” he said. “They’re happy about paying the $10 if they understand that that’s what it’s actually going to go for. It’s not just another tax on someone. It’s earmarked for a purpose that benefits them.”

Consequences

While the cruise industry brings huge sums of money to Ketchikan, such a large number of people flowing through a limited space is bound to create friction.

Some locals chafe at the packed sidewalks, streets and at the hawking that has grown as business owners hope to keep tourists coming into their shops.

But downtown, even with its issues, has had well more than a decade to adjust to the cruise industry.

Another area of Ketchikan is still working through those changes.

A large, and growing, portion of Ketchikan’s 900,000 tourists will find their way to Herring Cove this summer.

The appetite among visitors for wildlife viewing has created an industry of independent operators ferrying tourists between ships and Herring Cove.

Lately, the trend has been rubbing raw with locals, who in 2014 lobbied the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly to create new regulations for drivers and pedestrians in the cove.

The borough hired an employee to write tickets for errant parking and shoo vehicles off of the bridge that spans the cove, but one resident says problems remain.

“We were naive about the amount of power the borough would have over the highway situation,” said Powerhouse Road resident Halli Kenoyer.

Kenoyer said private property owners who developed parking lots to accommodate the buses, cabs and other vehicles are “not getting that business because tour operators can still park on the street and unload where they want.”

Kenoyer, like others who lobbied the Assembly, still believes a walkway along the bridge is the best solution to the Herring Cove congestion.

Some in the area oppose the idea because they don’t want to see more development in an area that was for years a secluded neighborhood.

Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary and Alaska Canopy Adventures already operate private property in the cove.

“As much as we would like it to stay our own private wilderness kingdom, those days are gone,” Kenoyer said.

Categories: News