Public funding for a new Juneau Arts & Culture Center is coming back into focus.
Mayor Beth Weldon referred exploring New JACC funding to the Public Works & Facilities Committee during Wednesday evening’s Finance Committee meeting. The public works committee is tasked with determining possible options for the city partially funding construction of a New JACC and has a May 1 deadline.
“We’re pleased the Finance Committee has taken a look at this, and we look forward to working with the public works committee and moving this forward for the best result for all of us in Juneau and for the new arts and culture center,” said New JACC Executive Director Katharine Heumann.
However, Heumann said it would be ideal to begin the project as soon as possible because the longer it takes to break ground, the more expensive the project could become.
There have already been some delays.
Initially, demolition of the old JACC was hoped to start in spring. However, in August a possible initiative that would have put the matter of issuing up to $12 million in general obligation bonds on ballots was favored by a 4-3 vote but failed to earn the five votes it needed to appear on ballots.
The package that failed to pass was included in the Finance Committee members’ meeting packets.
“This package that we’re looking at right now suffered an anomalous end,” Assembly member Rob Edwardson said.
Whatever shape a new option takes has yet to be decided.
“I think we’re not ready to talk about a financial package yet,” Weldon said before referring the matter to the public works committee. “We’re still trying to come up with a concept that people can get behind.”
Assembly members Michelle Bonnet Hale, Wade Bryson, Maria Gladziszewski, Loren Jones and Edwardson said they welcomed the referral to the public works committee. No Assembly members voiced opposition to the idea.
“I appreciate that once this goes to public works, it will bring a lot more visibility to the issue and a lot more transparency within the community, so people know that it’s being worked on early on, before we hit the budget cycle early on,” Hale said.
New JACC funding was placed on the committee’s agenda at Jones’ request.
“We as the Assembly need to re-assume some leadership in terms of being in the know, understanding what’s being proposed, understanding what the issues are among the various groups that are interested, supporting the JACC or not supporting the JACC or changing the JACC or whatever it is,” Jones said.
He said it was important to start the discussion before budget talks and to assert the Assembly’s place at the forefront of New JACC funding discussions.
“My request is we ask the mayor to assign this to a committee, to put a soft or hard deadline on it and then that committee chairman talk to the mayor about the other groups to talk about the best way to get the leadership from the Assembly on solving the problem and coming back with what we ought to do,” Jones said. “Whether it’s zero, or $7 million, $12 million or $20 million, hopefully not $30 million. I just think we as an Assembly need to re-establish ourselves in the leadership of having this discussion because it’s going to affect our finances in one way or another.”
Oblique references were made by Assembly members to meetings involving “other groups” focused on forming a funding plan for the New JACC.
Weldon and representatives from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, Travel Juneau and the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce had previously met.
“We were trying to see if we could get to some kind of consensus,” Weldon said. “I was trying to see if we could all get in the same room and get along together first to start off with.”
Weldon said after the meeting that her role is trying to find more support for the project.
“There was no talk of numbers,” Weldon said.
The Finance Committee was the last one that will be chaired by Assembly member Jesse Kiehl, who will resign soon after being elected to the Alaska Senate.
Kiehl, who wore a tie emblazoned with an Alliance Starbird logo popularized by Star Wars during Wednesday’s meeting, said he had filled that role for the past 2 1/2 years.
Gladziszewski thanked Kiehl for serving as chairman for the committee.
“You’re making me blush,” Kiehl said. “It has been very rewarding, and I’m sorry to give it up, but I know somebody more capable will take it over, and that described each one of you. We’re adjourned.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.