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City carves out niche for Walter Soboleff Center in downtown plan

Posted: January 14, 2013 - 12:04am
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Walter Soboleff Center
Walter Soboleff Center

Downtown’s historic district takes a new shape as the city changes the designation of land once known as the ‘pit’ to make room for Sealaska Heritage Institute’s modern cultural and heritage center.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly introduced Ordinance 2013-01 at its meeting on Jan. 7. The ordinance would revise the city’s Downtown Historic District Map to remove the parcel SHI plans to use to build its Walter Soboleff Center. The parcel is bounded by City Hall on Municipal Way, Seward Street and the Sealaska Plaza, Front Street and Shattuck Way.

Juneau’s Historic Resources Advisory Committee recommended at its Dec. 19 meeting that the city remove the entire block from the historic district except a five-foot section on Front Street facing the Gross 20th Century Theater and Juneau Drug. Beyond the five-foot setback, SHI can build to Juneau’s Mixed Use District standards.

Juneau’s Planning Commission met Jan. 8 and adopted the historic advisory committee’s recommendations. Commissioners were split on whether to move the recommendation on to the Assembly. The divide was over whether to annex the entire parcel or leave five feet within the district.

If the ordinance is adopted, SHI would not need to design and build its heritage center to conform to Historic District standards. However, if the commission and historic advisory committee recommendation is also adopted, five feet of the building front would need to meet historic standards.

“The façade of any building on the block would look about the same height as all of the buildings around it,” Greg Cheney CBJ senior planner said. “The initial feel for the pedestrian is similar to the rest of the block.”

Cheney said CBJ staff decided to remove the parcel from the historic district instead of making provisions to allow for modern building.

Although Sealaska Heritage institute has not released detailed specifications for the cultural center, depictions show a modern, multi-story facilities with Alaska Native art motif and pedestrian walkway coverage.

The Assembly is scheduled to take up Ordinance 2013-01 at the next assembly meeting on Jan. 28.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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