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Downtown Visitors Center still on pace for May opening

Posted: December 8, 2011 - 1:06am
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This image, drafted by Jensen Yorba Lott Architects, shows what the new Visitors' Center will look like.
This image, drafted by Jensen Yorba Lott Architects, shows what the new Visitors' Center will look like.

Construction of the new Visitors Center downtown is going smoothly, with completion still expected in May.

The new Visitors Center was approved as a joint construction package with the new City and Borough of Juneau Port Customs and Harbors Office, which was completed last year. Both projects bid for about $8 million, with $3 million for the city’s Visitors Center.

This fall the old center — around 45 years old — was demolished. A retaining wall has been built and now contractors — North Pacific Erectors — are filling in the area to create a plaza. Piles will be driven to complete the plaza and there will be timber included for decking. Gary Gillette, engineer for the city’s Docks and Harbors Board, said the plaza portion should be complete within a month and then construction will start on the actual building.

"We haven’t really run into any problems," Gillette said. "They seem to be on time. They did a really good job on the first building. Everything seems to be going well for this phase."

He said there really wasn't a lot of love for the old building, given its size and condition.

"It was in pretty rough shape," Gillette said. "It had about 340 square feet, which was really small for the amount of people they get. This is just under 1,000 square feet. It will be much more aesthetically pleasing."

The project is intended to expand the center and at the same time improve pedestrian traffic flow and safety throughout the area.

The old center wasn't actually built to be a Visitors Center and was rather closed off. It was rusting and had asbestos issues — something challenging to work around for renovation considerations.

The new building will feature a lot of grass and is designed to be a "look at me" attention-grabber. Gillette said there will be a lot more room for displays, brochure racks and people who are looking for information.

"We wanted a building that would attract attention," Gillette said. "I think that it will be a rather unique building for Juneau in that the siding is kind of a fish scale, it will be kind of a brighter color, iridescent color. The sun makes it look a little different in color. The plaza area has a lot of colored concrete."

The concrete is part of a broader plan in the redevelopment of the area to create more efficient and safer pedestrian flow.

The center's design is in contrast with the way the department had the Port Customs and Harbor building done, which was designed to not draw attention. Gillette said the dark blue and dark gray colors make it look nice, but not a building that would attract notice.

A "Welcome to Juneau" sign also will be installed with the project, which is actually going to be a little more complex than a simple sign. Gillette said the question the Visitors Center gets most often in the summer is "where can I take a picture with something with the word Juneau on it?"

This will be addressed via the 1 percent for art funds. The 1 percent was split between two pieces of art. One will be a mural on one half of the sign that will have an Alaska maritime theme. The other side will welcome people to the city and include a map. The mural will be painted by Arnie Weimer.

The second piece will be by metal sculptor Lisa Rickey. Gillette said her concept will be crafting a bull kelp plant that will have sea urchins on it. Both pieces are expected to be complete and installed for the May construction completion.

The center will continue to be operated by the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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