Notes on Marine Park/Steamship Wharf Improvements

Background

The CBJ is currently considering two concepts for increasing bus loading/unloading capacity in the Marine Park/Steamship Wharf area. One is an angled parking plan considered in a 1999 planning study. The other, at this stage, is a more informal parallel lane concept. It is our understanding that both these concepts will be further developed and reviewed by all stakeholders this spring with a pros and cons analysis provided to the Assembly in April or May.

Egret Communications has been asked to provide a comment on the proposed project from a tourism planning perspective, and in light of the background work that Egret has completed to date in preparation for development for the tourism management plan.

Waterfront Development

Before providing comments on the specific project, it is useful to set a context drawn from experiences in other waterfront development planning/tourism projects.

The tourism industry worldwide recognizes the significance of waterfront redevelopments as a special and important tourism product for any city. In some cases there are direct benefits such as, for example, the introduction of infrastructure to accommodate cruise tourism. In other cases there are indirect benefits, with the revitalized waterfront serving as a key tourism attraction in addition to its core function as a facility for the residents of the destination. Modern commercial (that is, downtown) waterfront planning in most instances takes the position that key portions of the waterfront must be "a place for people". (From the tourism planner’s perspective, that means the delivery of a "quality experience" for tourists.) This position is typically adopted as the key design theme in any planning process. Indeed, one of the acknowledged techniques to encourage private sector investment in waterfront development projects involves integration of this concept or design theme as follows:

This technique is designed explicitly to attract private investment based on the reception the waterfront is given by the city’s residents and visitors. To a greater or lesser degree, the technique has been adopted in Canadian cities such as Toronto Harbourfront (on Lake Ontario), Halifax waterfront and St. John’s waterfront. Similar approaches have been used in US cities including Baltimore and Boston. The change in the city’s image can be dramatic. For Canada’s east coast cities, their enhanced images as enjoyable places to visit and do business has provided them with a significant economic lift – attracting private sector investment and revitalized downtown retail activity, increased meetings and conventions, and even cruise tourism. Waterfronts play an important role in the perception of a city by the tourism travel trade (everyone from airlines and tour wholesalers to meetings and convention planners) – one that is sometimes under-appreciated by a city’s residents. The key is the pedestrian scale, active use and ongoing animation of the waterfront area for residents and visitors alike.

In the case of the Caribbean, waterfront development projects have either followed a planning process similar to that described above or have been designed more specifically to accommodate cruise tourism. Examples include the Point Seraphine retail development in St. Lucia, the cultural interpretive center proposed for the waterfront of Trinidad and Tobago, and the proposed interpretive center for the Barbados waterfront cruise port. These are all developments that have been planned to a greater or lesser extent to accommodate and attract cruise tourism. In each case, the strategy was to create a pleasant, interesting and animated experience – whether it be for cruise tourism alone in the case of St. Lucia or for the residents of the country together with cruise visitors in the case of Trinidad and Tobago. The strategy for Trinidad and Tobago’s waterfront is described in the case study available on the City’s web site on tourism planning.

Some countries have chosen to try to take advantage of cruise tourism as a strategy to re-invigorate their downtowns. This is clearly the case for the Cayman Islands where retail and related activity serving cruise tourism has been restricted primarily to existing downtown areas with no special provision for cruise tourism. A similar strategy was adopted by Grenada where its cruise passenger welcome center serves as a "funnel" to channel visitors to the downtown waterfront area of Georgetown. In these examples, there was no special provision for the cruise business other than infrastructure/service facilities. These countries made a special effort to ensure that their downtowns benefited from cruise tourism. This is somewhat different from the strategies of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, where the strategy for the cruise visitors was to sell the "destination" experiences and diversity of the country – hopefully to convert some cruise visitors to future stayover visitors.

Both the facility development and "revitalization" of downtown areas strategies have their pluses and minuses. Typically, facility development is undertaken where there is a special need (e.g., the location of the cruise docks in St. Lucia led to the construction of a retail facility away from the downtown area) or where there is a particular strategy the country wishes to follow (for Barbados and Trinidad, marketing to the cruise customers the diversity of Barbados experiences to enjoy while visiting that day or to come back as stayover customers).

Also important to consider is the impact that revitalized waterfronts have on destination tourism (including business and conventions). Most cities in North America that have revitalized waterfronts for pedestrians have been able to successfully enhance their image and attract new business because of that enhanced image. It is an acknowledged fact that people enjoy waterfront areas, bring their friends and relatives to waterfront areas when they visit, and frequent them for shopping and entertainment as well as recreation. It is an important asset for any city and one that must receive very careful consideration as part of the planning process.

The key concept underlying successful waterfront development is the delivery of a quality, pedestrian-oriented "experience" to both residents of the city and their visitors. The better the experience, the greater the impact on resident quality of life and the perception of the city’s image by visitors.

On the Broader Question of the Juneau Waterfront

We must also observe that consideration of a specific facility such as this outside of the context of a broader pedestrian circulation and public spaces plan for the waterfront is not the ideal approach. We believe that the preferable position is to develop such a public spaces, circulation and animation plan for the entire waterfront area in question, thus providing a better planning context for considering, siting and designing interventions for services and other facilities. It also helps to test other ideas (e.g., the location of the interpretive center). From such a plan will come ideas and ultimately recommendations for waterfront landscaping, furniture, linkages through pedestrian design features to downtown areas, and the like. It also sets the framework (and adds certainty) for private sector investment.

In short, an integrated and comprehensive waterfront plan is desirable – one that is broadly supported by the public and the private sector – to define and enhance public use and private sector investment opportunities. It should reflect a vision for the waterfront for Juneau residents and businesses and be fully integrated with and support the accepted tourism future for the City. In our view it is not just a logical next step based on the tourism management plan. It is much more than that – a key planning tool to guide the development and use of the waterfront in a comprehensive way for the benefit of Juneau’s residents and businesses.

We note there have been a series of plans for various parts or functions of the waterfront but none appear to be integrated as part of any larger waterfront vision. The tourism planning process presents an excellent opportunity, through greater certainty about the vision and future for tourism activity in the City, to proceed with the development of a comprehensive waterfront plan.

Marine Park/Steamship Wharf Project Comments

The Steamship Wharf is home to a major influx of cruise passengers for a relatively short time each year. One of the attractions is the ability to "dock in the downtown" and disembark right at the wharf. At the same time, it is recognized that the wharf is a major asset and opportunity for all of the City’s residents. The challenge is the degree to which one can enhance the waterfront for both cruise and resident use alike while still accommodating a key economic driver for the City.

The implication from the preceding discussion is the importance of considering the quality of the waterfront experience – to residents and from the perspective of arriving cruise passengers as a primary evaluation criterion in any planning analysis.

We will review the specific proposals and options for the concepts under consideration and provide comments soon.