This picture shows the City and Borough of Juneau City Hall on Dec. 20, 2021. City officials are eyeing options for a new or renovated city facility. On Monday, the Public Works and Facilities Committee narrowed the scope of possibilities to four potential options. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

City narrows field in search for new City Hall site

CBJ officials pick four potential city hall sites

If everything goes according to plan, voters in the City and Borough of Juneau may be casting ballots to decide where the city does business in the future during the 2022 municipal election.

In a survey earlier this year, Juneau residents expressed strong interest in building a new City Hall. Now, city officials are considering where to build the structure by refining the list of possible sites from a long list of possible locations that spanned from downtown to the Mendenhall Valley.

At Monday’s Public Works and Facilities Committee meeting, committee members gave Katie Koester, director of the CBJ Engineering and Public Works Department, the green light to take a closer look at four potential sites, which city staff members had selected using criteria to establish site suitability.

The four options moving forward for additional consideration include renovating current city hall facilities, redeveloping the vacant Walmart building, adding a new building atop the downtown transportation center or constructing a new building on the city-owned public safety lot at 450 Whittier St.

Koester explained that each site has a list of pros and cons that warrant further study.

She said that renovating the current city hall building is the least expensive option in the short-term with a price tag of $11.2 million. However, even with renovations, the usable life of the building is likely 25 additional years.

“That’s a lot to sink into a 70-year old facility,” she told committee members, adding the city would still face space constraints.

[Juneau eyes options for new City Hall]

She said the least expensive option overall is to build on top of the downtown transit center. She said that work done to support prior efforts helps to keep the cost lower. But, parking could prove an issue.

She said that renovating the vacant Walmart building offers a centrally-located option with ample parking. However, the land on which the building sits is currently leased, so a land purchase would have to be negotiated and the city would lose a potential development site. In addition, she said bringing the building to code would be “relatively expensive.”

Koester said the Whittier Street location features desirable aspects like proximity to federal and tribal offices. However, it’s also a prime location for housing, which is a city priority.

Committee members Greg Smith and Christine Woll asked Koester to add research on how moving City Hall out of the downtown corridor could affect local businesses before a unanimous vote to move forward on the suggested sites.

City officials expect a public meeting about the sites in January with a potential site selected by Feb. 14. Ultimately, Juneau voters can choose to accept or reject the plan to build a new City Hall in October during the municipal election.

Finding the right fit

In presenting the options, Koester shared a matrix with eight viable sites for the new building along with a list of pros and cons for each site. The matrix incorporated factors like service life, parking availability, sustainability/energy efficiency, available space and availability.

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To land on the four preferred sites presented to the committee, staff members eliminated sites that did not meet the criteria for moving forward. The sites eliminated include the Bill Ray Center downtown, which was dropped due to lot constraints. A Telephone Hill location was nixed as a potential site due to ownership concerns and accessibility. A Vintage Park location was removed due to a recent land sale that made the site unavailable. A site near Pipeline Skate Park, in the 2400 block of Mendenhall Loop Road in the Jackie Renninger Park was removed from consideration because it lacked good access by foot or car due to its proximity to a busy intersection.

In a memo to the committee, Koester shared that several locations suggested in the survey had been eliminated before the matrix was developed. Sites eliminated early in the process include Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, the Assembly Building, the Rock Dump, the downtown library site and the Goldbelt Building, which currently houses the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. offices.

About the survey

The survey conducted this fall by the McKinley Group showed that Juneau’s residents are broadly supportive of developing a new City Hall. Currently, city offices are spread out across several downtown buildings, including the 70-year-old municipal building and several rented spaces, which drives $750,000 in rental costs each year.

More than 1,000 Juneau residents responded to the survey and cited parking and long service life as high priorities for the new city hall building. Sustainability, green building techniques and high energy efficiency were also popular priorities based on the survey results. Respondents rated architectural and visual appeal and having a prominent location lower priority items.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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