Juneau is known throughout Alaska, across the nation and around the world as an especially vibrant place for artistic and cultural activity. Having strong, robustly supported, effective arts policies and programs, and providing appropriate infrastructure for the artistic and cultural activities, is essential to a healthy, thriving community. Arts and culture are elements of life without which we can’t fully live.
Juneau residents have heard a lot about the decades of official City and Borough of Juneau planning documents (comprehensive plans, economic development plans, waterfront plans) which envision expanding Centennial Hall to add arts and culture space and/or building some sort of performing/visual arts complex on the site of the old Juneau National Guard Armory. These concepts have been floated by and embraced by the Assembly since the early 1980s.
After over 30 years of conceptual consideration, a group was formed to focus the community’s attention on how to make the New Juneau Arts & Culture Center finally happen. The Partnership, Inc., is a nonprofit with the specific mission to create and implement the fundraising plan to make the New JACC a reality. At the outset, this required evaluating community needs, business models, user preferences and the economic situation to scope out a project that would both succeed as a business and serve the greatest level of community need.
In 2015, a study about how the New JACC would perform financially was done by the McDowell Group, evaluating the documented needs of the community for a space to augment or replace the old Juneau National Guard Armory, which started transforming into the existing JACC in 2007. The first study considered remodeling the old JACC, which was ultimately determined to be impracticable. An updated version of the McDowell study in 2016 acknowledged the need to remove and replace the old facility, and incorporated current elements of the design and operational plans and realistic cost estimates.
As the New JACC project has continued to evolve, its economic benefits and the market demand it is poised to meet have become increasingly clear. The Partnership re-engaged the McDowell Group in 2018 to update the Financial Feasibility Study to inform CBJ and all of its residents, as well as visitors to and friends of the capital city, of the continuing beneficial potential for the New JACC.
The 2019 New JACC Financial Feasibility Study was released at the beginning of this month, and it shows that this project is on the right track to serve an undeniable need in a cost-effective, sustainable way. There are a number of features in the feasibility study that are noteworthy, foremost among them the projected expenses for the facility and the estimated revenues. McDowell used three ranges of analysis in considering future potential operations, and then landed on conservative estimates for the final assessment.
Looking at the overall anticipated costs and incoming revenues, the study shows the New JACC is likely to be operating with net revenues over $50,000 in the third year of operation. This is as soon as a new business venture is normally expected to move into profitability (and while some may question why a nonprofit would do so, this is a semantic issue — call them “positive net revenues” if “profit” is somehow a confusing term).
The full McDowell Group study can be viewed online at newjacc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Feasibility-Study-for-the-New-JACC.pdf. One thing a perspicacious reader will note is that the bottomline numbers do not take into account the potential revenue from summer visitors to Juneau who choose to include the New JACC in their shore itineraries. This reflects a conservative, prudent approach from the analysts, but clearly this new facility can and will engage and serve the summer visitor population.
The impending dramatic growth in visitor numbers in more compacted timeframes on larger vessels will acutely increase the need for adequate capacity to ensure those coming to Juneau have a positive, memorable and desirable visitor experience. This further underscores the viability and beneficial economic potential of the New JACC.
With the years of planning behind it, and this newly released assessment of how it can perform and enhance our community, the New JACC is now more than ever, something that Juneau can and will make happen.
• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan and an attorney who lives in Juneau. He is marketing and development staff for the Partnership, Inc., and the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council.