Editor’s note: The Empire ordinarily does not accept opinion pieces from candidates. In light of a lack of competition in all municipal races, this policy has been waived for this piece.
Our city hall is the worst thing we are getting wrong in city operations. The current city hall is a 70-year-old dilapidated building, that is passed its useful life. It would require $12 millions to give it 25 more years of life. We rent in four separate buildings at $827,00 per year and rising. When I became the chair of Public Works and Facilities Committee our largest task was to figure out the best solution to city hall. We conducted a public survey with 1,326 Juneauites responding. Longest life was the number one requested attribute, followed by parking, sustainability, and remaining in a central downtown location. The survey and city staff search produced 52 potential sites that were whittled down thru public works meetings to present the four most optimal sites to the Assembly. 450 Whittier became the best option that answered the most requirements
We looked at every type of property from Auke Bay to the rock dump. Schools, office buildings, and every vacant building were considered. We explored the top of both parking garages and outside the box ideas like the Malaspina ferry. Unfortunately renovating and repurposing an existing building didn’t become the best option. It showed that reusing a building was potentially as expensive as a new building and that didn’t satisfy the most important requirement of long service life. Walmart is the best example. In the survey 32 percent of respondents requested the Walmart location, so it warranted a deeper look. A design from Northwind Architects showed what it would look like to put city hall inside the old Walmart location. It was a bad fit. In the end the Walmart option was more costly and doesn’t provide the requested life span. The fact that the building didn’t come with the land underneath didn’t help either. While we don’t have a big box store right now it would be short sighted to remove the last big box store location in town.
The Assembly had to decide between 450 Whittier St., on top of the downtown transit center, do nothing, and the Walmart building. The property at 450 Whittier answered the most specifications. It is a vacant, city-owned property, and located downtown. It rose through the ranks as it had fewer negative issues than any other option. It is the only option that didn’t increase the parking problem as we opted for parking underneath. We absolutely looked for a better location, but we couldn’t find one. Keeping City Hall downtown, while a controversial topic, was an important factor. 450 Whittier is right in the center of government and civic functions. It is surrounded by the state, federal and tribal governments. It’s next door to the JACC, the civic center, Zach Gordon, KTOO, and the SLAM. 450 Whittier while not on Front Street and Seward is still downtown and provides the most convenient access for you.
All options are expensive. We knew that there would be a cost to solving city hall, so we committed $6.3 million already. In the next two years our city’s debt service rate will be cut in half. We can afford to do this and not raise property taxes. We also have the benefit of not paying $827k in rent. Not doing something now, will still require $12 million to be invested to the current city hall. This is throwing good money after bad. In 25 years, our children and grandchildren would still have a poor condition, very old city hall they will have to deal with. There wasn’t a question of if there was a problem but what was the correct solution? A purpose-built building at 450 Whittier is the best product we could come up with. This provides the absolute longest life by double the other options. 450 Whittier is the most permanent solution to the city hall issue. If it wasn’t the best solution, the best value, I wouldn’t ask you to support it. Please support the new city hall bond request. Say yes on Proposition 1 on Oct. 4 and say yes to a positive Juneau future.
• Wade Bryson serves on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.