With a split vote, the Ketchikan City Council opted to continue to manage its cruise ship docks rather than contract to an outside company at its Wednesday special meeting. Since May 2019 the city has been exploring a potential private-public partnership to develop the Port of Ketchikan and uplands.
The council had three options on the table – to contract with one of the two respondents to a Request for Proposal or to choose the “no action” alternative and continue managing the port itself. The two RFPs came from locally-owned Survey Point Holdings and Ketchikan Port Solutions – a partnership between international operator Global Ports Holding and Anchorage-based ConRAC Solutions. The council voted 4 – 3 to maintain day-to-day management of the cruise docks.
Council member Judy Zenge says she has given the proposals a lot of consideration but believes solutions can be found in-house. She suggested developing a local port authority rather than looking for an outside fix.
“We’ve got a lot of talent here. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do it,” she said. “And I understand that there are people that don’t agree with that. I’m for the status quo but now I’d like to add some level of port authority with local people and I think that makes more sense to me right now.”
Council member Dave Kiffer says he would like the city to contract operations of the port with a private company. He says this is an opportunity to work with companies that would not work with the city in the past. Based on positions of council members, Kiffer says that prospect was not going to happen.
“We’re not going to accept any of the proposals. Great. Those are also just words too. Because immediately we’re going to have to, as a community, start rolling up our sleeves and pushing people who then will have absolutely no incentive to work with us,” he said.
Newly elected council members Riley Gass and Abby Bradberry ran on a platform of retaining city management of the port. Gass says he knows there will be challenges, but does not want to enter into a 20 or 30-year agreement or give away control of the port. He also says the playing field has changed: a pandemic erased this year’s cruise season; a private dock has been built outside city limits that will compete for cruise traffic.
“The obvious ones – Ward Cove (development), COVID which wipes everything out and slows the industry down, even the proposers have suggested that they’re no longer looking at immediately expanding our docks. That’s pretty much why we started this whole thing. I don’t think we want to sell it out,” he said.
Bradberry says she didn’t think Ketchikan’s place as a cruise destination is threatened.
“We got to 1.2 million passengers with quote unquote ‘doing nothing.’ Clearly we were doing something or we had the right people in place, good relations with certain entities to make that happen. They didn’t just show up for no reason,” she said.
Council member Janalee Gage called it arrogant and ignorant to throw out the two proposals from private industry.
“And I mean that with the deepest respect. And only because I worry about where we will be if we have nothing in the next two years,” she said.
Gage says the options should be put to a vote of the people.
Council member Sam Bergeron says this is one of the most important decisions before the council, and they should listen to residents.
“The community has almost universally voiced their opinion for the city to retain control of the docks,” he said.
Bergeron made the motion to keep the cruise dock city-run. Prior to the vote, an amendment was added on the advice of city attorney Mitch Seaver. The amendment included reasons the council feels it’s in the best interest of the city to cancel the process, including the Ward Cove dock development, the COVID pandemic and public input.
The amendment passed unanimously. The main motion passed 4-3. Council members Zenge, Bergeron, Bradberry, and Gass voted in favor; and Mark Flora, Kiffer and Gage voted against.
In other actions, the city council approved a transfer of the property ownership for 632 Park Avenue which had been in the ownership of Ketchikan Youth Initiatives and Residential Youth Care back to the city. The building will be renovated and used as an overnight warming shelter.