First Things First Alaska Foundation is a local nonprofit committed to education, advocacy, and support of responsible economic development. Our organization focuses on community needs that benefit everyone, not “wants” that benefit a few. Our goal is to keep Juneau as affordable as possible so people of all ages can live here.
Last summer, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, FTF requested copies of all communications and/or correspondence between the City and Borough of Juneau and Alaska’s congressional delegation related to CBJ requests for federal funding or other assistance related to any existing, current, contemplated or proposed capital project.
FTF requested this information for the benefit of the public to provide information about the CBJ’s efforts to secure funding for the “Capital Civic Center” that morphed out of the failed “New JACC” vote in 2019.
In October 2019, Juneau voters said yes to $7 million for Centennial Hall renovations but rejected spending $4.5 million to help pay for what was then a $26.4 million arts and cultural center. After losing (59-41), New JACC promoters convinced the Assembly to merge Centennial Hall with their New JACC. The re-configured project was never voted on again, but is now being touted as a done deal that enjoys broad community support. We are not sure where that support comes from. Is there a better demonstration of community sentiment than a public vote?
What we learned from our FOIA request is that the CBJ has spent significant staff time and resources generating dozens of pages of documents, letters, and emails in pursuit of a project, the earlier version of which, Juneau voters roundly rejected.
Recently, the Juneau Empire ran a front-page story: “City OK’s steps toward proposed Capital Civic Center.”
According to the Empire, the facility is “…expected to cost up to $75 million and would include amenities like a theater, community hall, gallery, ballroom and business center.”
Over a year ago, on Jan. 10, 2022, on a 7-2 vote, without seeking public input and in defiance of the 2019 vote, the Assembly appropriated $2 million for engineering and design for this combined performing arts and convention center.
The planning funds have gotten the promoters to the stage where they can apply for construction funding. But even if they succeed in collecting $10 million from the state, $35 million from our Congressional delegation and a few more million from private foundations, Juneau taxpayers will still be responsible for operating and maintaining the massive facility, in perpetuity.
If you visit the “Capital Civic Center” website, (https://www.capitalciviccenter.org/) you’ll see it described as “a high-priority community project.” The $75 million facility has been characterized to our federal delegation as Juneau’s “#1 funding priority.”
Most Assembly members insist that their No. 1 priority is housing, followed by affordable child care. What is it?
Nowhere on the website do promoters say how many employees it will take to staff this city-owned facility (whether it’s being used or not) or how it will pay for itself. Before the pandemic, Centennial Hall required a $600,000 annual subsidy. How much might this combined facility require from taxpayers?
In addition to a theater, community hall, gallery, and business center, earlier drawings also show a shop and a café. Yet in the immediate vicinity of the proposed project are Bullwinkle’s, the Sandpiper Café, Raven Café, Sacred Grounds Café, TK McGuires, Pucker Wilson’s and McGivney’s. How much rental business will this facility take from Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall?
Because our elected officials and city staff appear to be operating in the shadows with respect to this project, and because of the impact it will have on Juneau taxpayers well into the future, FTF will continue to monitor this issue and urge Juneau residents to do likewise.
Don Habeger is executive director of the First Things First Alaska Foundation.