As a 40-year resident of Juneau, I have spoken to many Alaskan pioneers, longtime residents and newcomers to provide viable solutions that will help our community thrive through these challenging fiscal times.
Many of Juneau residents are concerned about how downtown Juneau has changed due to tourism. For those of us who remember Mike Zimoria’s Senior Citizen Center, the Crystal Saloon and Ballroom and the Scandinavian Hotel remember these local business were owned and operated by Juneau residents that provided excellent social venues. The people who worked there were Juneau residents, not corporations hiring people from other countries.
Many people living in the Valley or out Thane do not like going downtown due to no long-term parking or to avoid the homeless population and concern of violence by members of our community who have mental health and substance abuse issues. Why don’t we transform the vacant Walmart into homeless shelter that provides housing for veterans, the disabled, youth and adults, which would provide education by The Learning Connection, health care, job counseling, a garden and recreation to encourage hope and opportunity to these marginalized members of society. By turning Walmart into a center for these members of our society by providing small apartments and community center would stop police intervention and make downtown friendlier to locals and visitors.
We are fortunate to have good public transportation and care van who helps our elders. But we have to ask ourselves how we can encourage private enterprises to invest in downtown and fill the vacant store fronts on North and South Franklin. We have small grassy parks for dog owners who would visit cafes and populate downtown, if we had stores open in the winter.
Affordable housing, loss of state and federal jobs is a real threat to our public infrastructure, but we need to restore the Alaska Marine Highway System to Angoon and other villages so that Southeast rural communities would have a place to shop and encourage supporting local businesses. After losing 300 state jobs and so many homes up for sale, we have to wonder if Juneau can survive the fiscal challenges we face.