Hands were raised high as members of the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce had many questions about the new City Hall proposal that City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Wade Bryson spoke about on Thursday.
Bryson presented at the Juneau Moose Family Center luncheon to the chamber to speak in favor of the new City Hall proposal and advocated about his opinion on why he thinks its an important move for the city to make.
Bryson said he believed building a new City Hall would be the best option for the city both fiscally and longevity. His speech was made as the days grow closer to the October municipal election, which will decide whether the city moves forward with $35 million in bonds that would provide most of the funding for the proposed City Hall.
The proposed building would move the location of the current City Hall over to Whittier Street, across the street from the state museum. The total project is estimated to cost around $41.3 million, which would require the $35 million bonds along with $6.3 million to be pulled from general funds, an amount that the Assembly has already allocated.
“That’s the max, we won’t go above that,” Bryson said.
He said the current City Hall located across Marine Park is in poor condition and said the possibility of renovation will only cause problems later. He said some of the negative sides of staying in the current City Hall location would be the necessary renovations that would need to be made, the continuation of the $800,000 annual cost the city spends on renting out the space and its lack of space that hinders the possibility for all CBJ staff to be in one location.
“It just isn’t a fixable solution,” Bryson said. “If this fails, we would then spend time fixing the current City Hall for 20 years and then give the problem to our kids.”
Bryson then said his reasoning behind advocating specifically for the building of a new City Hall rather than renovation of an existing building, like the old Walmart building, is because the No. 1 goal behind this project is “long service life” and renovation is “simply not the answer.”
He said the process of elimination a city committee went through before settling on the Whitter Street site was both comprehensive and took much time and deliberation.
He said the committee originally started with considering 52 sites to be in the running for the new City Hall location before the list dwindled to 21, then four, before the committee finally landed on the consensus that building a new City Hall would be “most bang for our buck,” Bryson said. The proposed piece of land that the new City Hall would sit on is already owned by the city, which Bryson said would already save the city a large portion of the cost and time that would need to go into the building is the ballot initiative is passed by voters.
Sean Boily and James Bibb, business partners and principal architects at NorthWind Architects, said they support building of a new City Hall at the Whittier site and came to speak to the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday “on our own dime.”
“We’ve been pretty excited by the process, it goes back a number of years,” Boily said.
Bibbs said the building is “for the most part a simple office building” and often referred to it as “the box.” The duo said the design is meant to be the most efficient and cost-effective way to create it at the capacity needed for the space to hold all of CBJ under one roof, while also keeping it close to the downtown Juneau area.
Some people at the luncheon didn’t share the same view.
“You’re abandoning downtown,” said Loren Jones, a former Assembly member. “I think you’re abandoning downtown and looking in the wrong direction.”
He said City Hall should be in the core of downtown, and said moving over to Whittier Street would disrupt that.
Bruce Abel, the president of Don Abel Building Supply, said he doesn’t follow the math Bryson laid out in the presentation, and said he is displeased with the lack of clarity and information being given to the public on such a large-scale topic.
He said he is unlikely to vote for the project at this time and said he has more questions than answers.
“Right now, there are way too many unknowns,” he said. “It’s going to cost more to the public every year — just do the math. We are going to be paying way more each year than we are in rent, that doesn’t make the project wrong but the public needs to know that.”
Abel said right now he sees the renovation of the current City Hall as the cheapest option but said there are too many unknowns with the project to know what option would be the best.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.