An artist depiction of a new City Hall building at 450 Whittier St. (Courtesy Image / North Wind Architects)

An artist depiction of a new City Hall building at 450 Whittier St. (Courtesy Image / North Wind Architects)

My Turn: A new City Hall helps Juneau maintain its status as Alaska’s capital city

We are witnessing a full court press by some members of our community to vote down a bond issue to build a new City Hall, and many of them state the increase in property taxes last year as their reason.

Like many Juneau residents I, too, was upset by the increase in our property taxes. But unlike many of the well-heeled business folks who oppose construction of a new City Hall, I don’t have the financial resources they do. And yet I’m not opposing a construction project that will benefit our city because of an ill-advised increase in property taxes.

The bottom line is we need a new City Hall. The current building is in terrible disrepair and, as a retired union business agent, I fear for the safety of the workers in that building. For a number of years I represented state workers in a building with “sick building syndrome,” and witnessed firsthand the toll it took on those with respiratory problems. I suspect there may be similar issues at City Hall because of reported water damage.

If you need more specific information on why to vote yes for a new City Hall, read the Sept. 9, 2023, My Turn column by Sioux and Paul Douglas. They wrote in understandable terms the reasons for voting yes on Proposition 1, the bond issue for constructing and equipping a new City Hall. Just the fact that it will save us $1 million dollars a year in annual rental costs is incentive enough, but in addition, as they state, it will cost over $14 million to renovate the existing City Hall.

It makes little sense to me that business-minded folks are against this project. Yes, there’s the property tax issue. But don’t they have a vested interest in ensuring that Juneau maintains its status as Alaska’s capital city? I note that a longtime member of the Alaska Committee is among those strongly opposed to building a new City Hall!

For those unfamiliar with the Alaska Committee, it is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1995, “charged with enhancing Juneau as Alaska’s capital city.” The committee was formed after numerous attempts to move the capital from Juneau. In 1974 the vote to move the capital succeeded by about 11,000 votes. I remember how frightened we all were — our town would be a hollowed-out shell, and our homes and businesses would be worth very little. In 1976 the city of Willow was chosen as the location of a new Alaska capital. The Juneau legislative delegation and community leaders came up with a plan and succeeded in putting a measure on the ballot, the FRANK initiative (Frustrated Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge). It required voter approval of a bond issue to finance the cost of building a new capital city. The cost of building a new city was close to $1 billion dollars and was turned down by the voters. We breathed a sigh of relief.

But capital move attempts persist. Nearly every year bills are introduced to move the capital or to hold legislative sessions in locations other than Juneau. I recount this history because I believe in the Alaska Committee’s mission statement. It states the committee is: “Dedicated to making state government work better for all Alaskans by improving and enhancing Juneau as Alaska’s Capital City.” The Alaska Committee’s website also says that they work “closely with the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) Assembly and in concert with other groups around the state, (and) the Alaska Committee has successfully initiated numerous projects that have enhanced access to the capital, improved communications and reinforced Juneau’s role as Alaska’s capital city.”

Juneau needs a City Hall we can be proud of. What do visiting legislators and people who are interested in investing in Juneau or building businesses here think when they visit our City Hall? My guess is their first impression is that Juneau is down on her luck. Let’s build a City Hall that says Juneau is a first-class capital city and center of business, not some downtrodden tourist trap. Please vote yes on Proposition 1.

• Kimberly Metcalfe is a lifelong Juneau resident.

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