Submitted By Kirk Thomas for Various Ketchikan Businesses
April 28, 2010
We, the undersigned, are writing you this letter to state our strong opposition to Oceans Alaska (formerly known as the Tongass Aquarium) becoming a shore excursion tour operator for cruise passengers here in Ketchikan, Alaska. Oceans Alaska has promoted and represented itself as a research, education and shellfish mariculture facility and has successfully applied for and been granted public seed money for all of the progress they have made thus far.
In 2008, the initial response to their $750,000 request for funding for the" Rainforest Interpretive Trail" from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Planning Liaison and Economic Development Advisory Committee (PLEDAC) was that "a conflict exists between public and private enterprises and would interfere in the competitive process by providing an advantage to the applicant." After this they proposed a more toned down request for the $500,000 "Marine Science Center for Alaska." When funding was not forthcoming, in March 2010, that same committee recommended on their Community Economic Development Priority (CEDS) list the inclusion of an Oceans Alaska request for 11 million dollars. Oceans Alaska has made great strides on its own behalf by promising jobs and a world class research facility while skirting the issue that their use of public funds would be in direct competition with private enterprise.
Oceans Alaska has publicly announced that operating expenses for the Marine Science Center will be provided by revenue from an estimated 150,000 tourists annually. Further, Oceans Alaska intends to make their excursion a destination to include a gift shop and seafood restaurant. With the decline in cruise visitors to Ketchikan that would mean that a non-profit (non tax paying entity) would be drawing a significant percentage of potential business from the already struggling privately owned tour operators (tax- paying companies).
Our businesses are self funded. We pay for our own marketing, staff and development. We employ hundreds of people and funnel millions of dollars into the local economy. Should we be expected to compete with a proposed large aquarium complex funded with public tax dollars? If we Alaskans approve of this publicly subsidized shore excursion business, essentially we will be consenting to the end of many of our small established businesses located all over Ketchikan, many of whom operate on the smallest margin of profit.
In 2009 Ketchikan tour operators and retail stores saw a drop in revenue of 10-40% due to fewer passengers and cruise ship stops. That percentage is expected to rise in 2010. This will further impact our small community.
Oceans Alaska speculates that they will "positively impact" the economy of Ketchikan. With the shortest port times in Alaska, Ketchikan businesses already struggle to serve guests who are only in port for 5 to 6 hours. Taking those guests to the remote Herring Cove area for a 3+ hour tour will mean that those guests won't have any other opportunity to visit privately owned shore excursions or retail stores, or other publicly funded facilities such as Totem Bight, The Tongass Museum and the USFS Discovery Center. How can these subsidized shore excursions possibly have a "positive impact" on our local economy?
We could support Oceans Alaska's
original mission as a research and education facility which will
help the fledgling mariculture industry but not as a tourist
attraction. We call on you to include language in your funding
that as a publicly funded entity, Oceans Alaska may not compete
with private enterprise, including, but not limited to, shore
excursion tours sold aboard the cruise ships.
AAA Moving & Storage
Received April 28, 2010 - Published April 28, 2010
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