The former Ketchikan pulp mill site. (KRBD file photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Ketchikan could soon be home to a private cruise dock in Ward Cove, just north of city limits.

Ketchikan-based Ward Cove Group is partnering with Norwegian Cruise Lines and Fairbanks-based Godspeed, Inc., to build a two-berth cruise dock at the site of the former Ketchikan Pulp Co. They expect the $50 million first phase of the project to be completed by 2020.

Godspeed, Inc., is owned by the Binkley family, which has operated tour businesses in Fairbanks for decades. Ward Cove Group is owned by Dave and Andrew Spokely. They bought the pulp mill property from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in 2011.

Project spokesman Trevor Shaw is administrative manager for Ward Cove Group’s Power Systems and Supplies of Alaska. He said the need for expanded cruise ship berthing in Ketchikan was an option that the Spokelys have been considering for a while.

“We’ve had cruise ship docks on the map that we have of Ward Cove for five, seven years now,” he said.

And with concerns about summertime tourist congestion downtown, Shaw said the timing was right.

“The conversation really became, how do we capitalize on the growth of tourism in Ketchikan while also solving the issue of congestion and creating more capacity, (for) the flow and the overall experience for not only the visitors, but the people who live hear year round,” he said.  

Shaw said the plans call for two berths that can handle post-Panamax cruise ships – those are the mega ships that are starting to come to Alaska.

The City of Ketchikan has been wrestling with how to accommodate those larger ships at its downtown dock. The city’s dock currently can handle one mega ship at a time. The cost of reconfiguring the publicly owned dock to take additional mega ships is estimated at up to $150 million. That includes shoreside improvements.

Because of the cost, the city has been considering a private-public partnership. A special meeting of the Ketchikan City Council to discuss that issue had been scheduled for Tuesday, but was canceled.

The Norwegian Bliss is docked at Ketchikan’s downtown Berth 3 in 2018. The Bliss and the Norwegian Joy are two ships that might be docking in Ward Cove next cruise season, rather than downtown. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Shaw said the first phase of the Ward Cove project will be the dock, a passenger terminal and welcome center. Subsequent phases will involve developing the Pulp Mill site’s other building.

“And be able to show people the history of what the pulp mill meant to the region, and hopefully create it, redevelop it, as a new economic center that’s focusing on the major growing industry in southern Southeast, which is tourism,” he said.

Ketchikan’s pulp mill was built in the 1950s, and was a major employer in the community through the timber years. The mill shut down in 1997.

Shaw said the construction schedule is ambitious, but the community needs cruise berth capacity sooner rather than later.

“The goal was to be able to make this move as quickly as possible and take advantage a soon as possible of solving the capacity issue,” he said.  

The pulp mill site is about 7 miles from Ketchikan’s historic downtown. Shaw said they plan to offer shuttle service for cruise passengers who want to go into downtown Ketchikan. He said the new dock should help ease congestion, but still provide opportunities for visitors and various tourism businesses.  

“The goal is to not eat up more of the pie, but to make the pie bigger,” he said.

Shaw said through the Ward Cove Group’s new partnership, Norwegian will have first dibs on the dock space. Other cruise lines will be able to use it when Norwegian isn’t.