A plot of land at 450 Whittier St. is the preferred site for a new City Hall building. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)

A plot of land at 450 Whittier St. is the preferred site for a new City Hall building. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)

My Turn: Support for a new City Hall

This article has been updated to replace an incorrect image purportedly depicting the proposed new City Hall.

We’ve been reading with interest various opinions about the new City Hall and appreciate “our turn” to join the conversation, believing it an important ballot measure for voters in the upcoming Oct. 3 election.

To learn more about the project, we found lots of public information online regarding the costs and justifications presented by CBJ, the analysis by Rain Coast Data, and talked with some professional experts familiar with large city projects. We’ve concluded that supporting a new City Hall boils down to good, old pragmatic common sense.

Juneau is at a crossroads when it comes to the location of its center of government, as doing nothing is no longer an option, nor is there a quick fix. Voters will have the opportunity to vote up or down a $27 million, 25-year bond to build a consolidated City Hall facility on city-owned land at 450 Whittier St. It will provide more convenient access to the public and create a long-term, cost-efficient, and purpose-built asset for our community’s immediate and future needs. The cost is reasonable and leaves room for the inevitable adjustments associated with large projects. Postponing the decision will not lower the cost.

We are comfortable voting yes because CBJ has significant debt capacity and is in a good position to issue a new bond. We believe it’s sound business for an entity such as CBJ, which will be in business forever, to own facilities rather than pay rent. By not paying rent, the $1 million saved in annual operating costs makes available funds for other priorities such as housing development incentives, child/youth programs, deferred maintenance and lowering taxes. In addition, we will certainly appreciate a consolidated location — one-stop shopping, if you will — for the large variety of services provided by our local government.

We like that the project is high on the FY24 CIP list which, with voter approval, will instruct our Assembly and managers to maintain and operate city offices and services over the long term into the future without continued crisis spending.

What doesn’t make sense to us is spending over $14 million on our existing 70-year-old City Hall to bring it up to code and ADA compliance because it needs extensive mechanical, electrical and plumbing system upgrades — and at the end it will still be inadequate. We can’t support continued spending of $820,000 per year to rent office space that is spread out in four other buildings. A remodel is cost-inefficient and there are significant problems in finding interim office space for staff displaced during a rehab given there are little to no appropriate commercial properties available. We like that CBJ moving from its current buildings will free up valuable downtown real estate that could be re-purposed for residential housing or commercial use by the private sector. For example, the Marine View Building currently has CBJ offices that could be converted into 24 apartments.

We recognize the high cost of living in Juneau, but to have CBJ cost more than necessary only makes it higher. We also acknowledge that we’ve chosen to live in this special and unique place despite some high costs because we greatly value the beautiful environment, an outstanding community of people, and being near family.

Besides economics and functionality, there is another important reason we will vote yes and it relates to being good stewards of our capital city. We are proud to reside in Alaska’s capital and are grateful to the fine citizens who for many years have served on the Alaska Committee striving to keep it here. The current mish-mash of local government offices does not represent the high standard and image a capital city should depict. We can do better, not only for Juneau’s residents, but for all Alaskans who come here for a myriad of reasons and services.

We are hopeful there will be a large voter turnout on Oct. 3 and are fortunate to have several candidates for the Assembly and school board from which to choose, as well as the opportunity to be part of a decision that will have long-term impacts on the viability of our community. We invite you to join us by voting yes to support a new City Hall — one that will be properly sized, energy efficient, and a modest facility designed to best serve its customers, the citizens of Juneau and all of Alaska. We think it’s the responsible thing to do.

• Sioux and Paul Douglas are longtime Juneau residents.

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