In response to Paulette Simpson’s recent My Turn column objecting to a new City Hall, I feel obliged to respond. I attended a meeting of the Retired Public Employees of Alaska recently and we heard from two of our Assembly members who are running unopposed for reelection, Wade Bryson and Greg Smith. Assembly members Bryson and Smith answered questions about the process the CBJ has gone through to determine where a new city hall should be built. Ms. Simpson suggests that the city should investigate re-purposing an existing building, and she said that rather than conduct a “painful ‘big picture’ analysis, city official instead create distractions and commission spiffy designs.”
That’s not the impression I came away with from the meeting I attended. Smith and Bryson described a process the city has gone through looking at various sites around Juneau, and they gave what I considered very sound reasoning for the site chosen. The building will be on land the CBJ already owns, where the state public safety building was. It is centrally located and will add to the upgrade of the area. The city is currently spending around $1 million a year in rent for the current city hall and other buildings city offices are located in. I believe we should own our city hall—it’s akin to renting an apartment for years rather than paying a mortgage and ending up with equity.
Simpson got in a lot of digs about the process the city went through in the early 2000s for a design for a new State Capitol. Her recounting of that history was completely off point and an unnecessary and vituperative attack on a former mayor who tried to do the right thing at the time. It has nothing to do with the issue at hand, other than to take a swipe at a longtime public servant who has given his entire adult life toward making Juneau a better capital city.
Juneau’s population may not be growing now, but from what I understand, part of our housing shortage is due to young people returning to Juneau after living down south. They now understand that Juneau is a much more desirable place to live than cities that are subject to intense heat waves, terrible traffic and congestion. These young people are starting families and are buying houses. It has created a housing crunch that will resolve itself over time. Having young families move back to town is a good thing and will increase the number of children in our schools.
Juneau desperately needs a new City Hall. The working conditions in the current building are intolerable, and as the capital city we should be embarrassed to show our existing city hall to visiting dignitaries and the public in general. A new City Hall will also mean high paying construction jobs for the community. I’m voting yes on Proposition 1 and I hope others join me. It’s past time for this project.
• Kimberly Metcalfe is a lifelong resident of Juneau. She has spent many hours in the current City Hall attending committee meetings and testifying on various issues. She recognizes the need for a new building.