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State office site review expands throughout Juneau

Public workshop to consider nearly two dozen possible building sites

Posted: September 30, 2011 - 4:36am
A large lot in the middle of the Vintage Business Park is one of the locations being considered for a new state office building.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A large lot in the middle of the Vintage Business Park is one of the locations being considered for a new state office building.

The state’s newly expanded list of sites for a possible new Juneau office building includes new locations in the Mendenhall Valley along with downtown, as well as numerous sites in between.

The list of sites under review by consulting firm ECI/Hyer Inc., appears to have gone back to the drawing board on location, beginning with a list of as many technically possible sites as they could find, even if they’d previously been excluded from consideration.

The list of 25 sites released Monday also includes two locations that had previously been among the top contenders, above the existing State Office Building parking garage and the Vintage Park site in Mendenhall Valley.

The new site list, to be the topic of a public meeting tonight downtown, also looks at new sites between downtown and the valley, including multiple possible locations on Channel Drive, Salmon Creek, Lemon Creek and the Department of Transportation’s Seven Mile complex.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he’d prefer a new building be located in the downtown core area.

“My primary concern has been to see Juneau, to the extent possible, keep major functions of state government centrally located in the core downtown area,” he said.

Government operates more efficiently, he said, when top officials, including commissioners, division directors and department heads are located in close proximity to each other, the Governor’s Office and the legislators.

The building is intended to house state employees now working in three of the most substandard locations, with the largest amount coming from the Department of Labor & Workforce Development building near the foot of the Douglas Bridge. Other employees will come from the Public Safety Building downtown and the Fish & Game Building in downtown Douglas.

The pending end of a lease drove the study of new locations for the Department of Labor Building, commonly known as the “Plywood Palace.” A legislative appropriation of $2 million is funding the current analysis.

No final cost estimate, nor even a commitment from the Parnell administration to seek funding, has been made.

Last year an attempt to win legislative approval to lease the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority’s subport property next to the U.S. Coast Guard station faltered in the Legislature, but the study funding was approved.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, to develop the subport property as a new office complex passed the House of Representatives but was bottled up and died in the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said it wasn’t a good deal for the state. That came after the owners of the “Plywood Palace” hired a lobbyist to fight the bill.

Botelho said the city will back any location in Juneau the state will support to strengthen the city’s role as the state capital.

“Every Juneau location is preferred to every non-Juneau location,” he said.

One site on the new list, at Auke Bay just past the University of Alaska Southeast’s campus, is far from downtown, but Botelho said he had concerns about one of the closest sites as well.

On the list is Telephone Hill, just between the city’s new parking structure and the State Office Building.

“For well over 50 years Telephone Hill has been identified as a preferred site for a new state capitol or new state legislative hall,” Botelho said.

Plans for a new capitol have faltered before, but he expected the need to return, and said such a visible site would be better for a capitol than offices.

“I’d find it disappointing to see that site used for something less than its highest potential,” he said.

Tearing down the current public safety building and Juneau Arts & Culture Center, given strong consideration before being eliminated from consideration in the last informal review, is back under consideration.

And one of the remaining finalists from the previous review, building on the site of the current SOB’s parking garage, remains on the list. That might involve building atop the existing multi-level parking structure, or demolishing it and starting over.

Little information was provided by the state about several of the valley and Lemon Creek sites, but many of the sites on the list do not appear to have the land area available to meet stated state needs.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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