Before the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly could decide whether it could find room to in a COVID-19-shaped budget to help fund a $12 million arts campus, the nonprofit working toward the project asked assembly members to postpone the consideration.
Previously, Sealaska Heritage Institute, a nonprofit focused on protecting and perpetuating Southeast Alaska Native cultures, asked the Assembly to provide $1.5 million in support for a downtown arts campus Before the matter was discussed in Wednesday’s CBJ Assembly Finance Committee meeting, SHI sent an email to Assembly members asking them to put the request on hold.
“Sealaska Heritage is keenly aware of the fiscal challenges facing the Assembly and the economic hardships our community and citizens are enduring,” said SHI President Rosita Worl in a statement. “In our efforts to support an economic recovery, we chose to ask the Assembly to delay action on a city contribution to SHI for the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus.”
The proposed campus would be located at Front and Seward streets downtown adjacent to an area known as Heritage Square, according to SHI. It would encompass about 6,000 square feet and include both indoor and outdoor space. Plans for the campus include work space for Northwest Coast artists, Native art markets, an art library, artists-in-residence and arts education.
“In addition to providing cultural and artistic enrichment and education, the arts campus will provide sustainable economic benefits in the same way that the Walter Soboleff Building has,” Worl said. “It will also further our objectives to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital.”
The Assembly obliged with SHI’s request and spoke favorably of the project, which Worl said is shovel-ready and has secured 80% of the funding needed for construction.
“I would move or support us writing a letter, whatever format Sealaska needed to keep this project moving forward,” said Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski during the meeting. “I appreciate their letter from today recognizing the difficulty the Assembly would be in trying to support something like this right now.”
Mayor Beth Weldon agreed.
“This is a good project,” Weldon said. “Not only does it support the culture of the community, but it would be a good economic driver. We don’t want to vote this down, that would be a bad message for fundraising.”
A motion for Weldon and City Manager Rorie Watt to draft a letter in support of the project passed unanimously, and a contribution to the project was placed on a long-term pending list to be considered in the future.
Worl said SHI advised the mayor and Assembly that they would work with the city to seek an amendment to the CARES Act — a federal act that provides COVID-19 relief funding — or to seek further stimulus funding that would allow the city to support economic development that could lead to a contribution for the arts campus.
In the meantime, Worl said SHI is considering delaying construction of some of the external components of the campus until further funding is assured.
“This will allow us to break ground and to immediately employ 50 construction workers in order to help boost the Juneau economy in a time of great need,” Worl said. “The project is expected to have a more than $10 million economic impact on Juneau.”
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt