With four years left on the long-standing Tidelands lease, the municipality of Skagway is beginning to plan in earnest for potentially significant changes. The municipality held its first Community Work Session about the future of the waterfront on Friday night.
The meeting’s title was “Working Together to Build Tomorrow’s Skagway.” And the community work session was designed so that all residents could weigh in on the future of what many consider the city’s greatest financial asset: the waterfront.
Mayor Andrew Cremata opened the meeting.
“Our decisions that we make up here concerning the port are going to shape the future of this community in countless ways obviously. The goal of tonight’s meeting is to gather community input to craft a vision for our port,” he said.
This series community work sessions is designed to plan for what happens when the Tidelands lease with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad expires in 2023. White Pass is the largest employer in Skagway.
Because White Pass leases the Tidelands area and owns the docks on it, they control much of the city’s port—and have since signing the lease in the 1960s. But a few years ago, voters rejected an extension of the lease with White Pass. Now, they need plan for what to do when the lease ends.
The municipality doesn’t have any control over cruise ship berthing at Tidelands, so some see the lease turnover as an opportunity for the municipality to gain more control over managing the port. White Pass pays the municipality $127 thousand per year under the current lease.
But as Jamie Bricker and other residents brought up in the meeting, what “gaining more control” over the port means is unclear.
“One of main things I hear from people in town when they talk about the ,municipality running the waterfront is that they need control. Well, what does that mean? Does it mean 51 percent? Is that what people mean when they say thy need control? Defining that is important,” she said.
Bricker, like many people in Skagway, is an employee of White Pass. She said the municipality would be wise to come up with a plan for the transition of port operations if management changes.
The waterfront generates $5,880,000 a year for the municipality. Many see the potential for substantially larger earnings.
Business-owner and former Skagway Development Corporation President Mike Healy urged the community to remember that Skagway has a seasonal tourist economy when considering the city’s future.
“I think it’s important to recognize that that’s our business. We are in the business of cruise ship passengers and we need to protect that business. Protect it and develop it,” he said.
Mayor Cremata counted nearly 50 citizens present. Over a dozen commented and all assembly members weighed in.
The municipality is still collecting comments. There is no date for the next community work session, but the municipality plans for another meeting later this summer.