By Larry Persily
Wrangell Sentinel 

Huna Totem expands its cruise ship terminal business

 

August 31, 2022 | View PDF



After opening its successful Icy Strait Point development to cruise ships 18 years ago, the village corporation for Hoonah is expanding its interests in tourism, particularly new cruise ship terminals.

Huna Totem Corp. last week said it will work to develop a new cruise terminal in Juneau, following announcements earlier this summer that it will develop a cruise ship destination in Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island, and one in Whittier, on Prince William Sound, which is just a short train ride or drive to Anchorage.

The corporation’s first development, the Icy Strait Point terminal, expects to welcome about 450,000 cruise ship passengers this summer, said Mickey Richardson, Huna Totem’s marketing director. It’s a big jump from about 300,000 in 2019, though some of the increase is because rockslide damage to the main cruise ship dock in Skagway this summer forced diversion of several ships to other ports of call.

The development is a big employer in Hoonah, a community of about 850 people at the northern end of Chichagof Island, about 160 miles northwest of Wrangell. Roughly 85% of the staff “call Hoonah home,” the company says on its website.

The Icy Strait development includes a restored 1912 salmon cannery and museum, a zipline, whale watching and other tours, nature trails, restaurants and Alaskan-owned retail shops.

The cannery last served as a maintenance and support facility for the seine boat fleet in 1999. Huna Totem started work on the cruise ship terminal in 2001. It added a second dock in 2020.

“During the pandemic, we looked at the industry and saw there were opportunities” to expand further into tourism, especially for a locally owned and Native-owned business, Richardson said.

The corporation is taking a lead role in a new Juneau cruise terminal with help from Norwegian Cruise Line, which announced Aug. 22 that it would donate downtown waterfront land to Huna Totem. The cruise line bought the 2.9-acre parcel for $20 million in 2019 from the Alaska Mental Health Trust, which leases and sells its land holdings across the state to raise money for mental health services.

Huna Totem and the Juneau village corporation, Goldbelt, will jointly develop the property, building a pier and cruise terminal.

Norwegian Cruise Line will have preferential use of the pier, according to the company’s news release.

“Having local ownership and operation of the site makes a lot of sense for Huna Totem and Juneau,” Richardson said. The land donation and business deal began more than a year ago, he said.

Huna Totem’s goal is for the terminal to see its first ships in 2025, Richardson said, but that’s subject to permitting, supply chain and other issues.

“As we began planning its development, it became abundantly clear that Huna Totem, owned entirely by Native Alaskans, was the right stakeholder to lead this effort,” Norwegian Cruise Line executive vice president Dan Farkas in a news release.

“This is an astonishing gift for Juneau and our Goldbelt shareholders,” Goldbelt president and CEO McHugh Pierre said in a prepared statement. “Giving ownership back to the Tlingit people is a tremendous way to honor the culture of this community. We look forward to partnering with Huna Totem to share the values and ancestral history of this land.”

The cruise terminal in Whittier is also a partnership between Huna Totem and Norwegian Cruise Line. In its first phase, the $80 million project will include a 1,200-foot-long dock and a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot bus and train terminal for travelers as they shuttle in and out of town for cruises.

City officials said the first ships could dock at the Whittier terminal by late 2024 or 2025.

The project in Klawock is a joint venture between Huna Totem and Doyon, the Fairbanks-based regional corporation for Alaska’s Interior. The two companies are working with Klawock Heenya, the village corporation for the Prince of Wales Island community of about 800 people, to make the town into a cruise ship destination.

Klawock is on the west side of Prince of Wales, about 70 miles southwest of Wrangell.

The first cruise ships are scheduled for next year.

“Like Huna Totem’s other ports, Klawock will promote Native and local Alaskan workforce and features an Alaskan-only retail program,” Huna Totem said when it announced the project in May.

The new cruise ship terminal will be built on 16 acres on Klawock Island, connected by bridge to Prince of Wales Island and its road system to other communities and tour options around the island. The plan is to use the Klawock Heenya-owned dock that had been used for exporting logs years ago, when Southeast Alaska had a thriving timber industry.

“Tourism is the opportunity we need,” Klawock Heenya Corp. President Teresa Fairbanks said in announcing the project.

Much like Huna Totem has done at Icy Strait Point, Na-Dena` will assist Klawock Heenya to develop a series of attractions and experiences, embracing Klawock’s totem-carving traditions, wildlife and the area’s sportfishing industry.

Na-Dena` also holds majority ownership of Alaska Independent Coach Tours, which operates in Southeast Alaska ports as well as in Seattle. Richardson said Na-Dena’ is looking to increase its interests in lodging, transportation and tour park development.

Wrangell has long advocated for growth of its tourism industry but a lack of attractions to accommodate the heavy passenger load of larger cruise ships has been an issue.

Jetboat tour operators have banded together to promote more cruise travelers to take day trips up the Stikine River or to LeConte Glacier, and the Anan Wildlife Observatory has grown in popularity. However, adding a stop in Wrangell often means a cruise ship has to drop a visit to another port to stay within its travel schedule.

 

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