Survey shows community wants industrial development at mill property, not tourism

More than 110 people completed the borough’s online survey to gauge public opinion on preferred uses for the former 6-Mile sawmill property, and an overwhelming majority said they want to see resource or industrial use at the site — not tourism development.

“The community has less of a tolerance — almost none — to expand tourism into that area,” explained Kate Thomas, director of the Department of Economic Development, which ran the survey.

Residents don’t want to create two separate tourism areas downtown and at 6 Mile, and are concerned “that a large developer could come into that site and privately develop it and create a greater division between the downtown (area) that fuels the tourism industry and that other parcel,” Thomas said.

Tour companies and other existing downtown businesses wouldn’t be able to duplicate their efforts at 6 Mile if it were to become a tourism hub — the geographic separation is too great, she said.

The department gleaned three major takeaways from the survey data and previous public forum on the future of the former mill property: The community wants to see private development at 6 Mile; they would prefer resource or industrial development over tourism; and they want to maintain the downtown corridor as Wrangell’s tourism and community hub.

The borough opened the online survey in May to assess the community’s desires for possible development at the property. The borough purchased the land last year for $2.5 million in hopes of attracting private investment to develop the 32 acres.

Thomas plans to analyze the survey results and use the data to inform the borough’s development plans in the future.

In December 2022, the borough hosted a town hall to generate ideas for development at 6-Mile. “Because only 40 people from the community attended that town hall … we wanted to expand that and make sure that we provided an opportunity for those citizens that weren’t able to attend to participate,” Thomas said of the survey.

The recent community engagement efforts have sought to determine whether the public’s views on development at 6-Mile have changed since the last major planning push for the site starting in the mid-2010s. “Generally, the findings of these surveys align with the previous notions,” said Thomas.

The push among survey respondents for private development over a government-led project is partly related to the development timeline. “It takes a considerable amount of time for the government due to the public process,” Thomas said. “Private can be much faster and more affordable.” One of the borough’s next steps will be reaching out to private entities that might be interested in investing in the site.

Some survey respondents provided specific ideas. One suggested a staging center for the U.S. Coast Guard; another suggested a mobilization site for mining operations. Such a site is “essentially a staging center,” Thomas explained. “(Equipment) is stored so that employees coming in and out have the resources they need. Basically, a launch pad between one location and another.”

The borough was recently awarded a Thriving Communities grant, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s plan to help underserved communities with infrastructure development. Now that it has a better sense of the community’s desires, the borough will move through the grant process, working to create a development plan for the property and “establish economies that have the best return on investment.”

When the timber industry collapsed in the late 1990s, “the impact was pretty severe to Wrangell,” Thomas said. “I think there’s some fear and stress around economic downfall and how that does or doesn’t impact the community and its residents. It’s really been in the interest of the borough to establish multiple legs of the economy.”

The pandemic, she explained, provided a prime example of how a diversified economy can prop up the community during times of economic strain. “Because we had more than just tourism within our community, Wrangell was still able to limp along and feed on those other industries. We want to strengthen the economies that exist — we also want to tap into something that provides another niche for us.”


Reader Comments(0)

Rendered 06/15/2024 18:12