WASHINGTON — The City of Whittier received a land transfer from the Army Corps of Engineers this week, a step forward for a project that would significantly grow cruise-based tourism in the small community.
The conveyance of 58 acres on a cleaned-up tank farm at the head of Passage Canal needed to happen for a tourism project in Whittier to move ahead. Huna Totem Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have partnered to propose building a new cruise ship dock in Whittier.
The project, called Head of Bay, could bring 110,000 new visitors and an estimated $1.2 million in cruise ship head tax revenue annually to the 272-person community.
“This was a big deal for us to have a new tax base with the port,” Whittier City Manager Jim Hunt said. “It’s so critical.”
The first phase of the Head of Bay project is estimated to cost about $80 million and will bring a new cruise ship terminal and dock to Whittier. Now that the land has been transferred, an official lease between Huna Totem Corp. and the City of Whittier is being finalized and the necessary permits have been filed, according to Hunt.
Assistant City Manager Jackie Wilde said the first Norwegian cruise ships could dock in Whittier in 2025, but she thinks the project may be ahead of schedule.
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, pushed for legislation to initiate the land transfer from the Army Corps of Engineers to Whittier in 2009.
“The development that will go into this region is a win-win — for the visitors who come here and the economic viability of our Southcentral communities,” Murkowski said in a statement.
City officials say the terminal would result in about 65 new seasonal jobs in the cruise industry. Also, they say increased cruise ship head tax and sales tax revenue from the terminal could be used for water system upgrades, infrastructure maintenance and public safety initiatives — the town does not currently have full-time firefighters or paramedics.