City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Wade Bryson listens to public testimony during a meeting Monday night. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Wade Bryson listens to public testimony during a meeting Monday night. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

My Turn: The new City Hall is my responsibility

I mean that. Since my start as the chair of the Public Works and Facilities Committee I have led the process of solving the City Hall issue. I am responsible for the outcome that was brought to the whole Assembly, that we are now asking you to vote on. Our City Hall was built when Juneau’s population was less than 10,000. As our city’s civic service needs grew, so did the size of local government and the amount of office space required. Assembly after Assembly failed to secure a city-owned facility to permanently operate our municipality. That’s why we are in this situation now. Well, the buck stops here, with me. Please allow me to address some issues and concerns surrounding the city hall topic.

Critics of the new City Hall (NCH) have attacked the public process. I’ll accept responsibility for this as well. There were more than 16 public meetings, many of which I chaired. Four opportunities to publicly testify and a city-led survey with over 1,300 respondents. We actively sought public input. I even went to some of the loudest critics and asked for their input from the start. We left no stone unturned. Every location and option were looked at and discussed. While no one liked all the answers, every step of the process was in the public eye.

The second issue that needs to be addressed is deferred maintenance. How could we have let our City Hall fall into such disrepair? It is the consequence of being a 70+-year-old public building, retrofitted from a fire station and a jail over 50 years ago. Combined with having a new set of leaders every year. A change in City Hall has been making its way to the top of the deferred maintenance list over the past few years. City Hall maintenance has been limited, because quite frankly how much good money do you want us to throw at the bad? It is difficult to justify spending $14 million to renovate a building worth $3.5 million that will still only hold a third of the city’s downtown employees.

Critics are advocating that continuing to pay rent is a good thing. Of all the things that I have learned about the city, the fact that we have been paying rent for at least 30 years, to the tune of $20 million, is the worst thing I have discovered. There is no other spending that is as wasteful. Saying no to NCH will commit CBJ to millions of dollars in rent payments with nothing to show for it. If CBJ is forced to rent 30,000 square feet, the most likely option will be to occupy a current state facility. I do not want to be on the Assembly that helps move more state jobs out of Juneau because we want to rent its office space.

There is no upside to renting City Hall office space. The business rule is to only rent if you must, buy when you can. After 10 more years of escalating, the lease costs will exceed what our consistent bond payment would be. There is no long-term scenario in which CBJ benefits from renting. The problem of CBJ renting office space for operations will persist until a future Assembly goes through the same public process and attempts once again. Every year we delay building a City Hall, we waste your money on rent and building costs go up.

We have a good plan that because of last year’s vote, now has a large enough down payment (30%). It is a collaboration of nine Assembly members and CBJ staff, that went through a vigorous public process. No one said it was perfect and of course we would have liked it to be less expensive. However, this is the best plan that any Assembly has agreed upon. All other options, including “do nothing,” are more expensive. If this wasn’t the best option for Juneau, I wouldn’t ask you to support it. Blame me all you want, but please don’t harm Juneau’s future. Please support the New City Hall and help solidify Juneau’s future.

• Wade Bryson is a Juneau Assembly member, radio host and small business owner.

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