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Under-bridge site development gets a boost at PRAC meeting

Whale sculpture, Maritime Center proposed for space

Posted: August 8, 2012 - 12:05am

Plans for a bronze humpback whale sculpture beneath the Juneau-Douglas Bridge received the unanimous backing of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee Tuesday evening, while the committee also heard more about the Juneau Maritime Center proposed to share the site.

Whale Project secretary Kay Diebels said artist R.T. “Skip” Walden approved of the site, which was formerly occupied by the Public Works Department, for the whale sculpture.

“The sculptor has looked at that site in some detail … and he thinks that it would be a very appropriate site,” Diebels told the committee.

The committee unanimously adopted a motion supporting the former city shop location for the sculpture.

Brent Fischer, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said his department has been collaborating with Docks and Harbors on plans for the site’s development. A park is included in the vision for the site, as is the Maritime Center.

“The whale was added kind of at the last minute,” Fischer said.

Committee member Jim King expressed some misgivings about the site being shared between the Maritime Center and the Whale Project under the current design.

“I would feel that the whale should take precedent over other things, and that we shouldn’t try to compromise by putting a lot of other things in that park,” said King. “But you know, if the design people can come up with a thing that does the job for everybody, that’s fine.”

Jeff Wilson, who chairs the committee, suggested that the Maritime Center could be designed to compliment the sculpture.

“There could be a whale skeleton in there, there could be a lot of … informational items that would tie into the sculpture,” Wilson said. “We could sell whale T-shirts and whale stuffed animals.”

Port Engineer Gary Gillette presented several concept renderings showing the proposed building, which would house the port director’s office, the Marine Exchange of Alaska’s offices and some public space, with a transparent ground floor and a tower in one corner.

“We have a tower element that would be reminiscent of a lighthouse,” Gillette explained. He said it would offer “quite some dramatic views up and down the channel, and a very different view of the whale.”

That vision attracted King’s attention.

“I just want to endorse the idea of having a lighthouse there,” King said, thanking Gillette for including the tower in the concept. “It would be a nice image for boats in the channel.”

Dixie Hood, another member of the committee, questioned whether constructing parking and office space on the site would comply with Juneau’s long-range waterfront plan.

“I know that this runs against what our chair wants to see happen,” Hood said. “I just would like to see … sizable green park space in that area, and it seems pretty limited in this proposal.”

Wilson suggested that a debate over the usage of the space would be better to hold when the site development comes up as an action item at PRAC’s Sept. 11 meeting.

“There’s no guarantee that there will ever be funding to build this building,” Wilson added. “All we’re doing is showing the Assembly, ‘Yes, here’s where a future building could go.’ … Until that time there’s a building there, that space there will be greenspace.”

The committee also adopted a motion at the meeting to support the Empty Chair Project, a proposed piece of public art recognizing the Japanese American internment’s impact on the Juneau community during World War II, which is seeking a site in Capital School Park downtown.

“I’m excited about having all the school kids playing and seeing it and just learning more about it,” said Wilson.

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

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