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Waterfront development moves forward with new Visitor's Center

Posted: June 23, 2012 - 11:08pm
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Port Director Carl Uchytil brandishes a large set of scissors as he prepares to cut the ceremonial ribbon held by civic leaders to officially open the new downtown Visitors Center on the People's Wharf on Friday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Port Director Carl Uchytil brandishes a large set of scissors as he prepares to cut the ceremonial ribbon held by civic leaders to officially open the new downtown Visitors Center on the People's Wharf on Friday.

It took a few tries for Port Director Carl Uchytil to cut the ribbon with his giant ceremonial scissors, but he got the job done.

The Visitor’s Center in downtown Juneau opened for business with a dedication ceremony Friday morning, capping a 10-year Docks and Harbors-led project to construct a new space for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as a new Port Customs Building a short distance away.

“JCVB is delighted to be the hospitality arm of Alaska’s capital city, and it’s a responsibility that we take to heart,” said Lorene Palmer, the bureau’s president and CEO. “This new facility demonstrates that Juneau, the highest-volume cruise port in Alaska, recognizes the importance of the visitor industry to our economy and demonstrates our pride in sharing Juneau with visitors from around the world.”

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, who also spoke at the event, said she was happy to see the tourism industry thrive downtown side-by-side with the fishing industry and other sectors of Juneau’s economy.

“This Visitor’s Center marks a significant milestone in the development of our downtown waterfront,” said Muñoz. “It’s with great pleasure that I see today that we still have a vibrant commercial fishing industry in our downtown waterfront that is alongside a vibrant commercial tourism industry. And I think that … each industry greatly benefits and enhances each other.”

State Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was also at the ceremony, as were Deputy Mayor David G. Stone, Assembly members Karen Crane and Mary Becker, former Assembly Member and mayoral hopeful Merrill Sanford, and former Mayor Sally Smith. Although Uchytil invited them to hold the ribbon as it was cut, none of them gave speeches.

While construction on the Visitor’s Center began last October, Port Engineer Gary Gillette said planning for the facility started back in 2002. He said original plans called for a shared space, but it was eventually decided to make the Visitor’s Center and Port Customs Office separate structures.

“I’m sure the JCVB will be very happy in this building,” Gillette said of the Visitor’s Center.

The building’s chief designer, Joann Lott of architectural firm Jensen Yorba Lott; construction project manager Chad Strong of construction firm North Pacific Erectors, Inc.; and landscape architect Christopher Mertl of landscaping design firm Corvus Design also attended the dedication.

Local singer Alyssa Fischer performed the national anthem and the Alaska state song, while Uchytil emceed the ceremony, introducing Fischer and the speakers.

“I’m the port director, and someone had to do it,” Uchytil said of his emceeing role. “It was either that, or speak.”

Although the Visitor’s Center and Port Customs Building are complete, Docks and Harbors will not be done implementing its “master plan” for the waterfront for some time, Gillette said. He laid out the process to come.

“This coming fall, fall of 2012, we’ll be taking out what we call the transfer bridge ... which was formerly used by the Alaska Marine Highway. … We’ll take that out and deck that all in, so we’ll have a continuous seawalk all the way along the waterfront here,” said Gillette. “And the following fall, 2013, we’re going to be redoing the parking area here. … It’ll be more efficient, pedestrian-friendly and safe. And after that’s complete, then we’ll move offshore here to build two new floating berths for the cruise ships.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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