Port Valdez Co. proposes land donation for museum for economic development
The Port Valdez Co., which owns the mountainous land overlooking the Kelsey Dock and ferry terminal known as Meals Hill, has commissioned a preliminary feasibility study that, if implemented, would exchange a large portion of land dedicated to the building of a new museum in exchange for the development of roads and utility improvements, presumably by the City of Valdez.
“In a nutshell The Port Valdez Company will donate the prime 6.14 acre Museum building site on what is known as “Museum Hill,” along with the road and utility right of ways leading to the site…in return for certain specified development site improvements,” says the Port Valdez Company Report that was prepared by Northern Economics on behalf of the company.
Representatives of the company, president John Clark IV and board member Patrick Krochina, presented the study and its proposal last week to the board of the Valdez Museum and Historical Archives.
The proposal has not been formally presented to City of Valdez, its council or administration, though talks of the project have been in the works for several years according to Clark. Much of the data used in the study by Northern Economics is based on information supplied by city administrators.
“We haven’t really brought it to the city,” Patricia Relay, the museum’s executive director said Monday, but acknowledged there had been very informal talks between Port Valdez Co. and the museum.
“We’ve been unofficially talking about it for about two years now,” Relay said after the meeting between the museum and company boards. “We’re officially starting the conversations.”
Clark said the proposal is quite fitting, given the intricate relationship between the company and the city, which roots span all the way back to the 1889 Gold Rush.
The Port Valdez Co. is exclusively owned by descendents of Valdez pioneers George Cheever Hazelet and Andrew Jackson Meals.
The real estate where Valdez was relocated to after the 1964 earthquake was originally owned by Hazelet and Meals according to Clark, who is Hazelet’s great-grandson.
The company owns large amounts of undeveloped real estate in Valdez, in addition to the newly renamed acres that comprise Museum Hill.
The company hopes that other developments will be encouraged on the acreage surrounding the proposed museum site if the city takes the lead in site improvements.
A rendering in the report envisions a conference center with hotel and restaurant above the proposed museum site, connected by a skyway.
“There’re a lot of questions right now,” Relay said, ““We’re going to continue to do our homework.”
Clark agreed and said there are indeed more questions than answers at this point.
Both Clark and Relay agreed the project will need full backing of the community to succeed.
“It’s a long process,” Relay said. “You need the community behind you.”
This means not only the museum board, but the town’s citizenry, government and business community.
The museum has long needed additional space to properly house and display its vast collection of Valdez artifacts, including its Native artifacts that predate the Gold Rush.
It’s collection is stored and some of it is displayed in two separate Valdez locations, its main building on Egan St. and the annex on Hazelet, just under Museum Hill.
“The annex building – it’s going away,” Relay said, referring to the city’s recent push to consolidate its maintenance facilities, including the shop housed in the old city-owned warehouse where the annex is located.
Funding for the actual construction of a new museum facility atop the hill is still unknown; the size, features and amenities and other considerations are not clear as of yet.
In the report the company presented to the museum board, it estimated the land value of the proposed donated land to be $658,000.
“It’s so generous,” Relay said, noting that if the city and Port Valdez Co. agree to the terms proposed, that it will just be the beginning of a long, expensive project.
The company is looking for development of a trail system, a road leading to the site and utilities such as waster/wastewater, electricity and other improvements, which it hopes will spur other developments on the surrounding property it owns.
Estimated costs to the city as presented in the report is $824,300.
While Clark admits Port Valdez Co. stands to gain much if the proposal moves forward, he said the company believes it will also benefit the city’s efforts at economic diversification and expand its tax base if it helps develop the site as a sort of “anchor tenant.”
“I think it’s very exciting,” she said, “It will increase tourism.”
Relay said she hesitated to use the term “world class” in describing a future new museum facility on a prime piece of real estate, but said that is exactly what Valdez needs to achieve a goal of becoming a real tourist destination.
Before the 2008 recession, a Montana-based real estate developer, Jack Rowe, began talks with the company and the city to develop the acreage overlooking the dock and ferry terminal as a high-end real estate development, that included a light house, hotels, and a high-end summer home subdivision that included large single-family homes and big ticket condominiums.
The real estate bust in the Lower 48 dried up backing for that project, but left open new opportunities for the development of the million dollar views offered atop Museum Hill.
Clark said he hopes Valdez will think big if the project moves forward as the Port Valdez Co. hopes to keep a dream alive that fits well for Valdez, and its future.
“We’re trying to be part of the future,” she said. “We’re trying to be part of the solution.”