City Assembly reviews plans for new city hall

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - A $26.7 million city hall project was pitched by the City Manager tonight to the Assembly Committee of the Whole.

    City Manager Rorie Watt said annual spending on office leases totals $750,000 per year.  The annual maintenance and utility costs for the aging city hall at 155 Seward Street exceeds $250,000 per year.  He estimated the city would save about $700,000 per year once the new city hall is paid off.

    Watt went on to state that a new city hall would consolidate downtown city operations for ease of use by the public, vacate space that could be used for private purposes, take advantage of existing CBJ infrastructure, reinforce Juneau's Capital Core and reduce long-term cost.  The facility would include two floors of office space and total 46,000 square feet. It would be located on the top of the downtown transit center parking garage.  "I think we could make an attractive addition.  It would be very accessible for the public and help our downtown area."

    The financing plan would include general obligation bonds over 30 years which would require a vote from the public.  They would also sell the current city hall.  The city currently leases space in the Marine View, Municipal Way, Sealaska and Seadrome buildings.  If the existing city hall were used for residential or commercial purposes the city could collect an estimated $60,000 per year in property taxes.  The current value of city hall is estimated between $2.5 and $3.5 million.

    Construction of the facility would generate about 100 full-time jobs and provide $5.6 million in payroll.  Some of the Assembly goals include downtown rejuvenation, more housing, more efficient government and easier citizen access to CBJ services.

    Watt suggested the staff prepare a presentation and hold public meetings about the project.

    Watt said a new facility would better coordinate and utilize staff.  His cost estimates have the city starting to make money on the facility in 37 years.

    "When your business plan is to be in business forever you should own your own building," he added.

    He said it does not make sense to him that the CBJ has paid rent for 26 years.  "The new building will be smaller and more energy efficient.  It will be better designed.  We would take care of it.  Whether we invest money in this building and make it ready for municipal needs for 50 years or we do it other there, now is the good time to decide."

    Watt said the current city hall is serviceable and works.   He noted they don't over-invest in improvements.

    "It is not the time to overspend by government.  The last thing I want is the public to feel that this was pushed too hard or too fast," he added.

    Rob Edwardson said he was two thumbs up for the project.  "If we do this in 10 years it won't cost less.  This is probably a good time to start looking at it.  I don't have any advice on the speed in which to do it.  I think we need a new city hall."

    Vice Mayor Maria Gladziszewski said she agreed with the manager that the CBJ will be in business in 50 years and needs a facility.  "I think downtown is a good place to be.  It is very expensive to build on top of the parking garage.  Maybe there is a better alternative."  She noted that at one point the parking garage was built to accommodate a new capital building.

    Watt said the public will suggest other ideas.  The most common is the Walmart building in Lemon Creek.

    Watt said moving city hall would hurt downtown.  He said the city must weigh the pros and cons of any suggestion.

    Assembly member Loren Jones said he didn't think a dark building on top of a parking garage would help the ambiance of downtown.  He mentioned issues like handicapped accessibility.  He said he wondered if the CBJ is serving the public and the needs of downtown by adding two stories on a parking garage.

    Michele Bonnet-Hale said she would consider other areas of the borough for a city hall including the Mendenhall Valley where most residents live.  "We also need to keep downtown vital but we have a lot of people out in the valley."

    Carole Triem said having city hall downtown is an important symbol.  "My instinct that having it downtown is important for fewer reasons that might be less tangible."

    She mentioned the effort to keeping Juneau the state capital.

    Edwardson said a valley location would improve accessibility.  He noted 20,000 residents live in the valley.  "The idea will come up and we need to give it full credibility and our full attention if it does."

    Another item of the debate was when to hold a public vote on the bond issue.  Some members supported this year, others suggested the CBJ could wait a year.

    The Assembly directed the Manager to seek public input and host public meetings on the project.





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