Empire Editorial: Ocean center shouldn’t gobble 6-ton whale

  • Thursday, October 22, 2015 1:01am
  • Opinion

A group of locals is asking for a 6-ton hood ornament. The problem: They don’t yet have a car or the money to buy one.

This is the situation backers of the proposed Juneau Ocean Interpretation Center find themselves in, and why the Whale Sculpture Committee is right to be leery about proposals to relocate the whale.

The idea of an ocean center is intriguing, and it feels as though Juneau would be the perfect setting for an 11,000 square-foot visitor center and maritime museum. However, given all the hurdles and moving pieces in its way, we’re not willing to bet a bronze whale it will ever happen.

Backers of the OIC need both land and money. Promises the whale statue will be in place at the proposed OIC site, where the Avista dock is now, by fall 2016 are too pie-in-the sky to be considered realistic.

It took the whale committee two years to secure the permits needed for the sculpture and seawalk to be built. The OIC would also need to get its permits and studies completed, and that is if it’s even able to acquire the land it needs from Alaska Electric Light & Power’s parent company, Avista, the City and Borough of Juneau and the Alaska Mental Health Trust. Those are all pretty big ifs, as is raising $13 million needed to build the center.

Bob Janes, who has given several presentations on behalf of OIC supporters, said having the whale sculpture is necessary in order for the OIC to happen. If having the sculpture is the deciding factor for the OIC, there’s a 27-foot hole in OIC’s plan.

The OIC should be able to stand on its own. If it can’t, it shouldn’t be built.

Detractors of the current seawalk plan and future home for the whale near the Juneau-Douglas Bridge say the whale will compete with the OIC if they aren’t placed together.

We’re not buying it.

These are some of the same people who say the whale’s bridge location will discourage people from visiting it altogether. The whale can’t steal visitors from the OIC if it has so few.

This appears to be more about a dislike for the whale’s location and last-ditch efforts to change it.

The Downtown Seawalk bid came in $3 million too high, and the project will go out to bid again because discrepancies on certain aspects of construction were as much as a $863,000 apart, with others still around half-a-million dollars apart.

Whale Sculpture Committee members are confident that the next bid process will be more in line with city engineers’ $11 million projected cost. If the bid again comes in high, committee members will look at cost reductions to the seawalk before asking the city for more money.

“We believe that the whale needs the OIC, and the OIC needs the whale,” Janes told the Empire in a previous interview.

On the contrary, the whale has money, land and a solid completion date. If handed over to the group proposing the OIC, it’s likely to end up with none of the above.

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