The upcoming municipal election defines a critical juncture in Juneau’s future. At stake is whether Juneau demonstrates confidence in moving its economic prospects forward or submits to the regressive tone of political actions statewide. The ballot presents three issues that, if approved, will permit this community to take advantage of a unique opportunity to advance its attractiveness as a capital city with first-class facilities while providing short- and long-term economic boosts. Fiscally, this can be accomplished remarkably cheaply now.
Contrary to expressed opinions, the New JACC and Centennial Hall projects involve neither real unknowns nor unneeded frills. Both facilities are old, deteriorating badly, needing extensive repair or replacement. The current JACC is not usable by some former patrons. The City and Borough of Juneau included New JACC in its 2012 comprehensive plan. Extensive public input, architectural design and initial fundraising have progressed since then. Public input from user groups included detailed information on specific capacities in the New JACC and coordination with the ultimate Centennial Hall capabilities. Once built, Centennial Hall and New JACC will be physically closer, connected by covered walkway. Over $5.5 million has been raised locally, primarily contributions from individuals and families.
Fundraising will continue. One essential element in its success is contribution by CBJ. That support is necessary to securing major contributions from corporations and foundations, like Rasmuson. Requiring municipal contribution reflects a reasonable approach by potential large donors who want confirmation of the local community’s commitment to the project.
CBJ support for completion of these projects should be obvious. The JACC and Centennial Hall already are significant public spaces that fill important community functions. They are integral elements of Juneau’s existing infrastructure. Given known deterioration of each facility, delaying action further is not rational. The aging problems and their associated costs inexorably increase with time and become more difficult to manage. These needs simply will not disappear.
So what advantages follow from completion of the facilities in Propositions 2 and 3? First, it consolidates a modern cultural core in Juneau as Alaska’s capital. The SLAM, Centennial Hall, New JACC and Elizabeth Peratrovich buildings in one neighborhood with the Walter Soboleff building near will offer first-rate collections and facilities for cultural and meeting events. Second, the coordination of CHall and JACC capabilities increases the size of conventions that are possible in Juneau with the attendant economic benefits. Third, and noteworthy, the parent of Norwegian Cruise Lines has chosen to invest $20 million in the property immediately across Egan from Centennial Hall and New JACC. So clearly someone has faith in the future of that area which warrants expectation of increased (tourist) use of Juneau’s facilities and area businesses.
Opposition to funding one or both of Centennial Hall and New JACC has raised issues that are fundamentally irrelevant distractions. Those include no road from Juneau, worry about schools’ declining student population, unsupported speculation about harm to currently utilized performance venues, and outright cynicism regarding anything done at city hall. The general fear contends that Juneau’s budget circumstances cannot tolerate additional expenditures. In this regard, the repeated implication that Juneau will undertake a $26 million obligation for the New JACC is irresponsible as the true figure is $4.5 million.
Fear is the operative word here. Eliciting uninformed fear is a proven method for stoking opposition. But Juneau cannot afford to succumb to the fear and backwards momentum that surrounds the 2019 assault on Alaska’s institutions. Juneau will survive this test as long as it does not retreat into an inactive hole. Juneau will emerge as a stronger capital to the extent that it maintains focus on the practical tasks before it and the steps required for their resolution. All budget times are tight. The current situation presents some challenges. But those do not preclude completing the proposed New JAAC and Centennial Hall which will rely on revenue bonds obtained in favorable circumstances. As Michael Stanley correctly observed in a recent My Turn, for Juneau to gain the New JACC as a self-supporting performing arts center while contributing less than 25 percent of the cost is an opportunity that cannot be missed. If this moment of such substantial private support passes unused, creating such favorable terms again is highly unlikely.
Vote “yes” for propositions 1, 2 and 3.
• Jev Shelton is a fisherman in his 50th year as Juneau resident.