The possibility of constructing a new city museum on the waterfront on south Franklin Avenue was raised at the City and Borough of Juneau Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night.
Committee members responded mostly positively to the idea, with only Assembly members Loren Jones and Rob Edwardson expressing outright opposition to the proposal. Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski said she shared some of Jones and Edwardson’s skepticism but was interested and wanted more information on the project.
In a memo sent to Committee members on Dec. 6, City Manager Rorie Watt wrote the current Juneau-Douglas City Museum next to the Capitol receives about 24,000 visitors a year and earns roughly $64,000. In order to continue operating, the museum requires $475,000 in support from the city’s general fund.
In the memo Watt said that he has done some preliminary work on whether a new facility on the waterfront would be more self-sufficient and not need general fund support. Cruise ship industry representatives expressed interest in the idea, Watt said, and would consider partnership ideas if the city chose to invest in the project.
According to Watt’s memo, the cost of relocating the museum would cost roughly $8-9 million. However, with its more central location, Watt believes the new museum will be a bigger attraction than the current one and receive more visitors.
The current plan would put the museum in the lot currently under construction adjacent to the parking garage and downtown public library.
A new museum would also provide an opportunity to house the Alaska art collection of William Morris III, former owner of the Juneau Empire. Morris constructed a museum in his native Augusta, Georgia, and told Watt he would like to find a way to house the collection in Juneau.
However, while there are a number of potential partners, no formal plans have been created. While most of the Assembly members expressed a willingness to consider the idea, Jones was skeptical the people of Juneau were not willing to spend money in support of the arts.
He pointed to the recent failure of Proposition 3 which would have funded a new Juneau Arts and Culture Center in the October municipal election as evidence of that unwillingness.
“This is not where we should be focusing right now,” he said.
Edwardson was similarly disinclined to support the project using taxpayer money.
“If the city wanted to build a $10 million museum near my business, I’d be happy too,” he said.
Assembly member Wade Bryson said he felt this was different from the new JACC vote.
“I don’t believe the city would say no to an improved museum, especially one that has so much potential,” Bryson said.
Other Assembly members asked Watt to return with more information on what will happen with the old Veteran’s Memorial Building on Fourth and Main Streets and how much other parties were willing to contribute. Gladziszewski asked Watt to return not with a complete business plan, but “more than a back of the envelope calculation.”
All members of the committee, save for Jones and Edwardson, voted to have the city manager return with a more detailed plan for the museum.
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