Norwegian Cruise Lines unveils initial design concepts for downtown Juneau property

A colored pencil sketch of a port next to a moutnain
Initial designs for the subport lot in downtown Juneau. (Courtesy of MRV Architects)

Last year, Norwegian Cruise Lines outbid competitors when it agreed to pay the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority $20 million for a 3-acre parcel of waterfront land in downtown Juneau. Now, Norwegian is moving forward with its development plans for the lot. 

Howard Sherman from Norwegian spent much of last fall and winter talking to people in Juneau about plans to build a new cruise ship dock on the property. 

During a public meeting on Wednesday, he addressed local concerns that a new cruise ship berth would lead to more cruise ship traffic. 

“We’re not looking to increase our NCL cruise traffic there, and so any pier that we’d build, we’d only be looking for cruise ships to be accommodated on one side of the pier and then possibly NOAA and/or Coast Guard on the other side of the pier,” Sherman said. 

Sherman and Paul Voelkers from local firm MRV Architects both said the new dock would cut down on the need for large ships to turn around in Gastineau Channel and idle while waiting for another ship to depart.

The current design concepts feature a multi-story building with bus parking underneath and a new dock perpendicular to the shore. There’s green space extending down to the water. The Alaska Ocean Center could be incorporated too, and Sherman said they plan to include electric hookups for ships to use while in port.

The concept also incorporates city-owned tidelands to the west, with hopes to extend the seawalk from Gold Creek closer to its intended connection to the existing cruise ship docks.  

Sherman said Norwegian wants to make it an area that locals can use year-round. 

He also said that after speaking to Sealaska Heritage Institute and learning about the history of the Aak’w Kwaan people at the site, he wants to incorporate cultural elements into the design. 

“It is actually my intention to rename this from the subport to Auke Landing,” Sherman said. “We would also feature a mural on the site to show what it would have looked like a few hundred years ago.”

Initial designs for the subport lot in downtown Juneau. (Courtesy of MRV Architects)

Sherman did not go as far as to offer up a budget for the project. He said it’s too early. 

“You get real careful with throwing out budget numbers before you have them really buttoned up, because people tend to hold you to that first number and that first number is for some reason always lower than what it turns out to be,” Sherman said. 

Like all major cruise ship lines, Norwegian faced uncertainty earlier this year as the pandemic bulldozed plans for the 2020 cruise ship season in Alaska and around the world. But the company successfully raised more than $2 billion in May through stock options and bonds to help weather the storm. 

“Cash isn’t an issue for us, going forward,” he said. “(But) budgets on all of our projects are always an issue. My budget nowhere has ever been unlimited and never will be.”

Two more virtual meetings will be held in Dec. 2 and Dec. 28 to gather more input on the project. They’re also circulating a public survey for locals to share their thoughts. 

The hope is to present the final designs to Juneau’s planning commission by June.  

Norwegian also has development projects at Ward Cove in Ketchikan and Icy Strait Point in Hoonah. Sherman said those projects are moving forward as planned.