Gunnar Schultz, intern for the Juneau Economic Development Council, speaks at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 alongside JEDC Program Officer Eva Bornstein. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Gunnar Schultz, intern for the Juneau Economic Development Council, speaks at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 alongside JEDC Program Officer Eva Bornstein. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Visitors, legislative staff concerned about safety in downtown Juneau, survey says

Cleanliness, vagrants in downtown appear on visitor surveys for first time

Visitors to Juneau would like to see downtown cleaned up, both literally and figuratively, according to two Juneau Economic Development Council surveys.

The results of the surveys, which polled wintertime visitors, legislators and legislative staff from this past winter, were presented to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge.

The survey of visitors was done during a six-week span in February and March, and polled 495 visitors. The survey of legislators was hand-delivered and emailed to all legislators and staff, Bornstein said. The response rate was about 50 percent, she said. The Alaska Committee assisted JEDC.

The survey, which JEDC Program Officer Eva Bornstein said was last done in 2015, produced many familiar results. Visitors tended to enjoy the scenery and the politeness of the people. They tended to not enjoy the high prices, weather and limited parking.

This year’s survey produced a couple unfamiliar results, though, Bornstein said. Visitors rated the cleanliness of downtown worse this year than in 2015, she pointed out. JEDC intern Gunnar Schultz said there was one other concern that was new this year.

“Safety was something that didn’t come up in the survey three years ago,” Schultz said, “but this time it came up. One in 10 people who were responding to this question were saying that safety was something they were concerned about. That’s a new concern.”

Schultz, who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School and will be a senior at Gonzaga University in the fall, said visitors suggested in the survey that the city should address vagrancy downtown. Those surveyed, both among visitors and legislative personnel, wrote in that they were concerned by the people milling around downtown and by needles they found downtown.

The biggest point of emphasis from visitors, both Bornstein and Schultz said, is that the city needs to become more accessible. Visitors agreed that they would like to see cheaper flights and more flight options in terms of coming to Juneau. Other suggestions included building a road north of Juneau, making Capital Transit easier to use and having more ferry service.

The legislative survey, Bornstein said, was a first-time endeavor for JEDC. She said the responses were similar, with some slight variations. Twenty-two percent of legislators and legislative staff polled said Juneau needed to improve safety, which made it the most-mentioned suggestion.

Some staffers talked about working into the night and feeling unsafe after leaving the Capitol, Bornstein said.

“People were talking about the fact that they’re walking home at night and they’re concerned with homeless or vagrants downtown,” Bornstein said.

The issue of downtown’s homeless population is not a new one. In February 2017, the City and Borough of Juneau passed an ordinance that imposed a penalty for people who sleep in the doorways of downtown businesses. From time to time, Juneau residents discuss the possibility of the Glory Hole homeless shelter moving from its spot on South Franklin Street to a location away from downtown. Earlier this year, even the Glory Hole’s board of directors briefly considered the idea.

Bornstein said that these surveys sometimes do result in minor changes. For example, she said, the Downtown Business Association began putting free umbrellas out around downtown after the 2015 visitor survey revealed how unhappy visitors were with Juneau’s weather.

According to the numbers presented Thursday, the weather was still the most disliked aspect of Juneau, but the number of respondents who said they didn’t like the weather decreased from 30 percent to 23 percent.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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