By Melinda Munson

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata used his poker face last week. He found out about the $2 million donation Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings planned to give to Skagway “a little before everyone else.” 

The cruise line announced May 4 it would gift $10 million to Southeast Alaska communities whose tourism-based economies were devastated by COVID-19 and the loss of a second cruise ship season. Juneau, Hoonah and Ketchikan will also receive $2 million, while Seward and Sitka will be awarded $1 million.

“We want to make sure that Skagway is still there when we come back, whether it’ll be this year, and next year, whenever it is, we want to make sure that everybody’s still there. You know, Skagway is very critical to us,” Steve Moeller, senior vice president for Norwegian told KHNS.

Described as “no strings attached,” the cash donation will go to the city, where “it will be up to the assembly,” on how to allocate the unexpected windfall, said Borough Manager Brad Ryan.

According to Cremata, Skagway has already lost approximately 20% of its population due to financial strain from the pandemic. The town, whose economy is based on tourism, normally sees one million cruise ship visitors a season. Not one cruise ship passenger disembarked in 2020 and the 2021 season could be nearly as bad.

“This is huge. We can have a town this winter and make it to 2022 even if the state and federal government continue to flounder,” Cremata said.

He sees the endowment as “an act of good will” and points out that Norwegian made similar donations in the Carribean after massive hurricanes.

Norwegian described the endowment as “humanitarian relief.” According to Ryan, the money isn’t in the municipality’s coffers yet, but the debate on how to spend the funds has already begun.

“I will put together something for discussion for the next assembly meeting,” Ryan said.

Skagway has experience distributing millions of dollars.

“We’ve already done some programs last year that proved really successful,” Cremata said, pointing to the SNOW grants which supported year-round businesses and monthly CARES payments made directly to residents. 

Independent tour operator Becky Silvers was pleased to hear the news.

“My first thought was ‘how nice!’ Followed quickly by, ‘I’m so glad I’m not on the board to decide where the money goes,’” she said.

Interested parties can help determine where the money goes by attending the upcoming finance meeting, May 19 at 7 p.m., and the assembly meeting, May 20 at 7 p.m.

“I think it’s great to have partners who are willing to support our community in times of need,” Cremata said.