Shortly after Walmart announced it was closing its Juneau store, the only things flying faster than clearance items off of shelves were rumors about what would become of the soon-to-be vacant building.
As is frequently the case with gossip, rumors about the city moving its downtown offices into Walmart are unfounded, according to several city officials.
“There’s lots of rumors out there, but I’m not actively looking at moving at this point nor have I been directed to by the Assembly,” City Manager Kim Kiefer told the Empire Wednesday.
There a lot of reasons why such a move would be ill-advised at this point, according to several people in the know. In fact, there are “a rainbow of issues here,” according to Carlton Smith, a commercial real estate agent in Juneau.
For one, City Hall isn’t the only building housing city offices downtown. City workers are also based out of the Sealaska building, the Marine View Center apartment building and the Municipal Way building. If the city were to relocate, it would leave about 50,000 square feet — the space currently occupied by city offices — open in the downtown area, an area that already has about 37,000 square feet of vacant space, Smith said.
Square footage is also an issue. The Walmart building is far too large for the city’s needs. Walmart is about 125,000 square feet, more than double the square footage currently in use by city offices.
“I don’t know what could make up that other 75,000 square feet,” Kiefer said.
And she’s not the only city official who thinks Walmart is too big to be appropriate for city offices. Assembly members Jesse Kiehl and Debbie White both said that though the idea didn’t sound terrible at first, it isn’t the best move for the city.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to move to the right sized space, and that’s a little more than twice the size of what the city occupies now, so it doesn’t really make sense,” Kiehl said. “The big goal, I think, should be to attract more retailers to that space.”
White felt the same way, noting the greatest benefit that property could offer the city would be the sales tax revenue generated by another big-box store.
“The building would need so much modification to be made into suitable office space anyway,” White, a Juneau real estate agent, added.
As far as Rorie Watt, director of Engineering and Public Works, is concerned, the renovation of the building alone should give pause to anybody touting this idea. For instance, he said, Walmart’s high ceilings would make it difficult to partition off separate offices because the walls would need to be so tall. There are also no windows in the building and only one set of bathrooms at one end of the building, he said.
“When you look at it, it makes no sense,” Watt said. “It makes sense that the best use for a closed box store is another box store.”