This is a picture of the City and Borough of Juneau City Hall in October 2022. The Assembly Finance Committee OK'd $10 million in funding to go toward a City Hall project on Wednesday, more than six months after voters narrowly rejected a city ballot proposal to approve $35 million in bond debt to fund the majority of the construction cost for a new City Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Assembly OKs $10M in funds for future City Hall project

The funding could go toward building a new one or renovating the current building.

An overhaul to City Hall remains a possibility thanks to $10 million in funding currently included in the city’s spending plan for the next fiscal year.

During Juneau’s most-recent municipal election in October 2022 voters narrowly rejected a city ballot proposal to approve $35 million in bond debt to fund the majority of the construction cost for a new City Hall. Now, the city is attempting to find a different solution to address its rapidly aging City Hall.

The $10 million in funding was OK’d for the city’s Capital Improvement Program for its fiscal year 2024 budget last Wednesday at the Assembly’s Finance Committee meeting in a unanimous vote. Final approval of the budget is expected in mid-June.

The $10 million would be in conjunction with $6.3 million that was appropriated by the Assembly for the project back in June of 2022. Though the Assembly Finance Committee OK’d the amount, there is still a chance it could change as the Assembly still needs to pass the budget as a whole.

Assembly member Greg Smith attempted to lower the amount down to $8 million, however, his amendment failed 2-5 with Smith and Maria Gladziszewsk voting in favor of the reduction and Assembly members Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Wade Bryson, Michelle Bonnet Hale, Christine Woll and Mayor Weldon voted against it. Assembly members Carole Triem and ‘Wáahlaal Gíídaak Barbara Blake were absent.

Before the vote, Woll asked that language for the project be changed from funding “a new City Hall” to just “City Hall” so that if another proposed new City Hall is rejected by voters in the future, the $10 million can still be used toward costs related to the city’s current City Hall, which the city rents and pays around $820,000 for annually.

“I am on board with pursuing a new City Hall and trying to do that — but I don’t want to get ahead of the voters,” she said.

The rejected City Hall on last year’s ballot would have cost the city around $41.3 million and been located on Whittier Street, across the street from the state museum.

Assembly member Wade Bryson was and continues to be the most vocal backer of a new City Hall on the Assembly.

“The main problem we are trying to solve is we have an inadequate and in poor conditions City Hall that doesn’t even house half the functions that a City Hall should,” he said in an interview Monday morning. “The current City Hall will not work for the community. There is no amount of money that we could spend to make it an adequate City Hall — it’s too small and too old.”

Bryson said he’s open to all options besides renovating the existing City Hall, and he’d like to see the previously voted down City Hall reenvisioned to address some of the concerns from voters and put back on the ballot.

“I really believe it will go towards a new project,” Bryson said. “The community understands the problem of City Hall and what we are doing with it right now is not working — but we don’t know what the answer will be we’re still trying to figure that out.”

According to City Manager Rorie Watt, the city currently has three possible options to solve the City Hall dilemma. The first is to rework the previously voted-down City Hall project and send it back to voters for another decision.

The other options are looking into the potential sites selected by a recent review of locations done by a private commercial brokerage firm and shared to the city in early May.

The two sites are at the Nugget Mall in the Mendenhall Valley area or the Department of Fish and Game building near the Douglas Bridge.

Watt said he thinks reenvisioning the Whittier site is still a strong option.

“People voted that one question down but sometimes it takes a few tries and altering the proposal,” he said. “Getting approval from the voters is a lot harder than convincing your spouse to renovate the kitchen — it’s complicated.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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