Juneau residents turn out to watch the whale fountain in action on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Whale worth the wait: Lights, fountain complete full-size bronze whale statue downtown

Correction: In an earlier version of this article Bruce Botelho‘s name was incorrectly spelled Bothelo. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

“The whale is done.”

Those were the words from Laraine Derr Wednesday afternoon after the finishing touches on the lights and fountain around the whale statue at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park at the Seawalk were completed late Tuesday evening.

“As of (Tuesday), it is working perfectly,” said Derr, head of fundraising for The Whale Project. “At night, there should be a moonlight glow on the water.”

The lights and fountains on and around the whale will operate intermittently and at this time there is no set schedule for when they will run, Derr said. The lights are adjustable and will be able to change colors to represent special occasions and holidays like green and red for Christmas and orange for Halloween.

The whale, which was the brainchild of former Juneau Mayors Bill Overstreet and Bruce Botelho after a conversation in 2006, has been quite the work in progress ever since. It arrived in Juneau in August 2016 after The Whale Project was able to raise approximately $1.6 million for the construction, artist fees and transportation from the foundry in Enterprise, Oregon, where it was cast, to the Seawalk location. The Seawalk, which runs from Gold Creek to Mayor Bill Overstreet Park next to the Department of Fish & Game building on West Eighth Street, is still being constructed. That project is in its third and final phase and is projected to cost $10 million. It’s funded by the City and Borough of Juneau through the marine passenger fees (a tax that the city charges cruise ship visitors) and CBJ sales tax revenue. CBJ contributed the property for the project.

The Seawalk itself is part of the reason the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is suing the city. In April 2016, CLIA filed a lawsuit against the city asserting that the city misused marine passenger fees by using them on the Seawalk and Mayor Bill Overstreet Park. CLIA believes the funds should have been for something that was more directly related to the cruise ships and passengers. The city’s argument is that cruise ship passengers will use the Seawalk and see the whale and because of this, the funding is appropriate.

Derr said she believes visitors and residents will be able to see what hard work and dedication to a project can look like.

“I just think for the all the people who have worked on the whale this entire time, this is a fulfillment of a dream,” Derr said. “I think Juneau residents and visitors will benefit from that fulfillment of that dream. I am sure Bill Overstreet is smiling down from heaven.”

Botelho said he thinks the whale will act as the face of Juneau for both residents and vistors.

“I believe that the whale will become an iconic symbol of Juneau,” said Botelho, president of The Whale Project Board. “It is such a spectacular whale in a spectacular setting. It is everything Bill and I had hoped for.”

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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