SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



Sometimes you can't 'Latch On to the Affirmative'.
By June Allen


January 21, 2006

Well, you have to admit that J.C. Conley got right down to the nitty-gritty of the present Newtown planning in his outburst at the recent Chamber meeting. It wasn't the coolest or  most diplomatic speech ever delivered, but there were kernels of truth in it. Even the best neighborhood "citizen input plans" often turn out to be well-intentioned but impractical. Those of us who sat in on the original Creek Street plans in the early '70s, all those years ago, have to admit that today's Creek Street doesn't appear anything like the original Creek Street plans. Just be grateful that the City fixed that boardwalk street's sewer smell problems.
And Conley was right about the present state of Ketchikan's "downtown" - those  ridiculously crowded street and sidewalk conditions in the tourist season and then almost everything boarded up in the winter? That situation wasn't caused by tourism; it was, as Conley said, caused by the collapse of the town's previous long standing and basic economic support - the closure of the pulp mill. Is it surprising that a small businessman, making half or even less of what he made a couple of years before the pulp mill left, decided to take a jewelry store's offer of a million dollars for his store?
That's what happened downtown. And it's probably what will happen in Newtown, which, by the way, ends at the curve by Talbot's, where Water Street ends. The stretch of Tongass Avenue beyond was developed much later. And, the "historic integrity of Newtown," for anyone interested, was commerce and heavy industry. Newtown was home to noisy wire works--making wire for fish traps, and noisy saloons, machine shops,  specialty canning operations, some quieter mercantiles - and some shanty squats for transients. Should Ketchikan try to replicate that for its summer guests?
Another thing to consider: As a very long-time greeter on the downtown cruise ship docks and streets, I think I can say I know what cruise ship tourists are looking for. Face it: They're looking for places to shop! And I also hate to say it, especially as much as I love Ketchikan's history, most tourists really don't give a hoot about historic integrity. Do the integrity thing for us, not for them.
If there's one thing Ketchikan does well it's survive and adapt itself to the vagaries of the economic climate forced upon it. It survived the collapse of the mining industry and adapted to the fisheries boom in the '20s. Then it survived the near-collapse of the fisheries industry in the '50s and subsequently adapted to the forest products industry -- the pulp mill. When the pulp mill left in the late '90s, Ketchikan entered its present full-time tourism stage. Don't knock it and don't bother to fight it, it pays the bills.
And let's don't knock newcomers who come to Ketchikan and get involved in civic affairs, whether they arrive as "government workers" or not. As long as they don't spout, "and this is the way we did it back in Medford or Oshkosh"  we welcome them to make their mistakes and learn. Newcomers, annoying as they can be in their innocence, keep us old fogies on our feet. And, speaking of old fogies, let's forgive J.C. Conley. Is there any one among us who hasn't lost his/her cool on occasion?
June Allen
Palmer, AK - USA


About: June Allen is "a writer always interested in Ketchikan's fascinating history". She lived in Ketchikan for many, many years before moving to Palmer.


Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.


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Ketchikan, Alaska