The Juneau Arts & Culture Center (JACC) is a popular topic this summer. Everyone knows the JACC: built in 1959, old and tired, but still trying its best to serve the good people of Alaska’s Capital City. It is a facility that has been loved almost to death.
Centennial Hall is newer, having been built in 1983. Both facilities are owned by the City & Borough of Juneau (CBJ), which has a duty to consider how they will be able to serve the community in the coming years. The Juneau Arts & Humanities Council (JAHC) manages and operates Centennial Hall in addition to the JACC, with all staff working in an integrated manner to provide the best services possible to all users of both facilities. No amount of commitment to exemplary customer service changes the fact that the JACC needs to be replaced, just as Centennial Hall needs smaller improvements and repairs.
CBJ keeps a formal list of capital projects and deferred maintenance, the Capital Improvement Program (CIP): (http://www.juneau.org/engineering_ftp/CIP/documents/CIP_FY2019-2024-Final.pdf). Updated every year, with input from the public, CBJ boards and commissions, and CBJ staff, the Assembly finally decides what to prioritize. After this robust process, facilities most requiring repair rise to the top so their needs are addressed in a timely manner. Because the JACC is so far beyond its useful life, it does not appear on the CIP as a batch of discrete projects (painting, lighting, heating, ventilation, roofing) but rather as a dedication of $1 million in temporary sales tax revenues for planning a new JACC with performing arts capacity, among its many other features. This acknowledges that the JACC is a CBJ asset that needs to be replaced.
Even before the Assembly put the JACC on the CIP, a private nonprofit entity (the Partnership, Inc.) was working diligently to come up with a sensible, prudent, cost-effective plan so scarce dollars won’t be spent on small repair projects that can never cumulatively meet the need for a new facility. The New JACC does exactly this.
Plans for the New JACC include a 300-seat performing arts theatre and a 100-seat “black box” event studio, both components in direct response to audiences, community members, artists, arts organizations and others who participated in an intense, multi-year planning process. The original plans called for a Community Hall about the size of the existing JACC’s Main Hall, which also reflects what Juneau had to say about this space and its capacity for weddings, memorial services, anniversary and retirement parties, fundraisers, and even roller derby. What these original plans didn’t fully consider was the marketability of the Community Hall as part of the New JACC to convention and meeting planners around the state and nationally. A larger Community Hall, with an enclosed connection to Centennial Hall, would help Juneau bring more groups from Outside to meet in Alaska’s Capital City with all the spending and economic benefits that accompany these functions. Co-management of the JACC and Centennial Hall means these facilities can function better with a higher level of service and customer satisfaction, and more efficiently and economically.
Proposals to spend public money must be carefully considered before they’re even voiced, and then scrutinized and evaluated on their merits. The New JACC is the result of careful planning process that has responded to increased awareness of the community’s needs. The New JACC merits community support in part because it is a public-private partnership. Private contributions of all sizes now total millions of dollars, alongside the CBJ investment of $1 million. The proposal to sell CBJ bonds to generate funds to pay to build the Community Hall portion, and to make needed improvements and connect with Centennial Hall, will leverage about three times as much from individuals, foundations, small business, and larger corporations. Almost all other projects on the CIP will not be matched with any private money, let alone three times as much.
Juneau will continue to debate community needs, but while that happens we have an excellent opportunity to move ahead on this specific one. The New JACC is ready to be built, and the community deserves a chance to choose to invest collectively in it at this critical time.
• Benjamin Brown, a lifelong Alaskan, is an attorney who lives in Juneau. He does marketing and development for the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and serves as Chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.