The building previously operated as the Thane Ore House near Sheep Creek will be burned down and replaced with a new heritage park building by Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The building previously operated as the Thane Ore House near Sheep Creek will be burned down and replaced with a new heritage park building by Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

If everything goes as planned, Thane Ore House will burn down

The fire comes before the fireweed.

On Thursday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors Board will decide whether to burn down the Thane Ore House. Under the plan proposed by the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Capital City Fire/Rescue will be able to use the building as a training opportunity.

The vote is the latest step in a plan by the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to turn the site into a cultural immersion park.

“We anticipated that we’d be able to renovate it, and then we had our engineers report from PND engineers … and they said it wasn’t salvageable,” explained Tlingit and Haida economic development manager Myrna Gardner.

In 2012, the Thane Ore House closed its doors amid charges that its owners had failed for years to pay sales taxes. The ore house site is owned by the docks and harbors department, and for four years, the ore house was the subject of legal action.

In 2016, Tlingit and Haida won a competition for the right to use the site. A city assessment indicated the ore house building wasn’t worth anything, but Tlingit and Haida signed its deal with the city nonetheless.

Tribal leaders had hoped that something could be salvaged. When they opened its doors, those hopes vanished. In 2012, the building had been left with its kitchen stocked. Mice colonized the sinks, shredding paper towels to build nests. Mold grew from thick layers of grease, encompassing the walls and ceiling. Damp and rot invaded gaps in the structure, which had never been built to code, thanks to its grandfathered status.

“They literally left grease in the frying pans, food on the counters, food in the freezers, and it just became this rat, squirrel infestation area,” Gardner. “It was so bad that we couldn’t go in without respirators.”

An October 2016 survey signed by Chris Gianotti of PND Engineers concluded, “It is not cost effective to repair and retrofit the building. It is recommended that the building be demolished and replaced with construction meeting the current building code.”

“It is quite a mess,” said docks and harbors board vice-chairman Budd Simpson.

Simpson is chairman of the docks and harbors operations committee, which examined the Tlingit and Haida plan.

“There just doesn’t seem to be anything salvagable,” Simpson said.

If the full docks and harbors board approves, the controlled burn would take place in early August, CCFR Assistant Chief Tod Chambers said. No firm date has been set.

If the fire goes off as planned, Tlingit and Haida will be able to press ahead to build the immersion park on the Ore House grounds. About three dozen people will be employed at the park, which is envisioned as a cultural center and tourist destination.

Gardner, who led the Empire on a tour of the grounds Tuesday, waved to a passing cruise ship and explained that when complete, the park will be visible on the channel shore to every tourist who sails into Juneau.

The park’s model is the 50-year-old Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. Over the past five decades, that center has grown to become one of Oahu’s most popular tourist destinations and now encompasses 42 acres.

The Tlingit and Haida park won’t be that large. It will include a carving building to build seafaring canoes and totem poles, a sweat lodge, a gazebo, smokehouse, cultural exhibits and demonstrations, as well as a version of the salmon bake that once occupied the ore house.

“We’re very good at showing our dance and sharing, but we want to take ours a little different, and we’re going to tell you about why we do these things,” Gardner said.

If all goes as planned, the old ore house will be razed in August, and a nearby warehouse (owned by AJT Mining Properties) will be renovated this fall. That warehouse will become the park’s carving building while construction of the ore house replacement begins.

The replacement will resemble a traditional longhouse and is expected to finish in 2019.

“It’s a change from its historical use, but I think it’s a good use of the grounds, and I’m kind of excited to see what they do with it,” said David Lowell, a member of the docks and harbors board.

The board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. in City Hall.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


The building previously operated as the Thane Ore House near Sheep Creek will be burned down and replaced with a new heritage park building by Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The building previously operated as the Thane Ore House near Sheep Creek will be burned down and replaced with a new heritage park building by Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Myrna Gardner, Business and Economic Development Manager for Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, talks on Tuesday, July 25, 2017, about building designs that will replace the building previously operated as the Thane Ore House near Sheep Creek. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Myrna Gardner, Business and Economic Development Manager for Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, talks on Tuesday, July 25, 2017, about building designs that will replace the building previously operated as the Thane Ore House near Sheep Creek. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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