Council members voted 4-3 in support of the status quo, rejecting proposals by Ketchikan Port Solutions (Global Ports Holding/Conrac Solutions) and Survey Point Holdings, a Ketchikan-based company.
Noting the council's division, member Judy Zenge said: 'I truly believe the best way is that we do it ourselves.'
Ketchikan was looking at awarding a 20-year operating concession including the redevelopment of cruise berths and other infrastructure.
The city, which handled more than 1.2m passengers in 2019, has become one of Alaska’s top three cruise ports. However, future growth is limited by its berthing configuration, which makes it difficult to handle multiple mega-ships simultaneously.
Improvements will require taking on more debt
In sticking with the status quo, Ketchikan will have to fund future capital improvements with additional debt, requiring voter approval.
It also gave up the prospect of annual concession fees from Ketchikan Port Solutions or Survey Point Holdings and the chance for either company to assume financial obligations for Berth III debt and for Berth IV lease obligations, along with proposed interim dock improvements.
Ketchikan faces competition from a new private port development at nearby Ward Cove that will accommodate two mega-ships. This involves Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ketchikan-based Ward Cove Group and Godspeed Inc. of Fairbanks, a tour business owned by the Binkley family.
The most pressing concern, though, is dealing with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether Ketchikan residents are willing and able to support the type of health-safety precautions and assurances that cruise lines will be seeking from communities they visit.
A committee is being formed to work with the industry and local businesses and the community on how to create a 'bubble' concept for cruise visitors.
'In survival mode'
'We're in survival mode,' said Council Member Sam Bergeron, who supported the status-quo option. 'It's the cruise lines and it's us. It's everybody. We all need to work together to survive. As a community, we'll come together and do that. I know we're in for some hard times.'
A report by the Federal Maritime Commission, published this week, identified Alaska as perhaps suffering the biggest per capita impact of any US state from the loss of cruise business.