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City action needed on downtown issues

Posted: August 20, 2011 - 8:41pm

Downtown Juneau continues to grow and improve, and as this process unfolds, we continue to have great opportunities to decide, as a community, what we can and should do to make this vibrant core of Alaska’s capital city a great and enticing place to live and to visit. I recently moved from the Marine View Center where I had resided in various different apartments over the better part of the last decade. I miss being right in the heart of downtown, but will not agonize over every single former detail of my enjoyable period of residency there. I will gladly forego the sound of late-night altercations between extremely intoxicated people, often requiring municipal authorities to intervene to prevent physical injury.

There’s no question that one of bigger challenges faced by downtown is the presence of a sizeable homeless population that makes free use of the streets, parks, parking lots, and really all accessible space. Residents and visitors alike are often approached and asked for money and sometimes people are yelled at and treated rudely through no fault of their own.

The capital city needs to continue its work to make downtown attractive and conducive to the sort of activity that is non-offensive and acceptable and a deterrent to things we don’t want to happen in public spaces. The new parking garage and park atop telephone hill are fairly open and airy in design, and as a result seem to be less frequented by trouble than older corners of downtown.

Marine Park is an example of a space that is quaint and charming in many ways, but is in sum broken and in need of replacement. I have enjoyed serving many times as host of Concerts in the Park for the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, and appreciate Marine Park when it is at its best. But when it’s being misused, through many long nights throughout the year, with large groups of people getting drunk, and fighting with and yelling at each other, something has to change.

The City & Borough of Juneau is soliciting public input about what sort of space we would like Marine Park to be if it is fully reconfigured, and I think keeping some amphitheatrical shape to the area makes sense. We can get rid of the dark recesses and slopes that are inviting to sleep or pass out on, and make the whole area more transparent. The example of Gunakadeit Park at the corner of Franklin and Front Streets presents itself as a successful use of gates to close off a park area in the middle of the night to keep things clean and well-used.

Dovetailing with the current public dialogue about how to improve Marine Park is the issue of moving the Alaska Fishermen’s Memorial from its current spot farther south along Gastineau Channel in order to build a ginormous new “16b” cruise-ship dock. I am unsure if this particular dock is something that is really wanted by the cruise industry or most people in Juneau, and I doubt it really needs to be built as slated, in a manner that necessitates moving the memorial to Marine Park or anywhere else. I fully understand the distress this must cause the families and friends of all those commemorated at the memorial and see why moving the memorial from its perfect current spot will grieve those who gather annually to participate in the springtime Blessing of the Fleet. But this conflict may be entirely unnecessary. The new dock plans can be altered so the Alaska’s Fishermen’s Memorial stays where it is, and it further will not have to complicate the redesign of Marine Park.

It is going to be truly delightful to see Sealaska Heritage Foundation develop its arts and cultural heritage center on the former hole-in-the ground on South Seward Street. This project promises to be an exciting new hub of activity in the heart of downtown, and may help architecturally transform the neighborhood. It would be nice if, down the block, the city could muster the resources necessary fix the green, metal four-faced clock across from the Triangle. This lovely piece of equipment has been stuck at noon/midnight on all four sides for more months than I care to count. Can it really be that technologically challenging or prohibitively expensive to fix this clock? Tourists used to stop and take pictures, and I suppose some still do, but it really is preferable to have a functioning timepiece in the heart of Alaska’s capital city. One hopes that before the snow flies, and as other steps are taken to spruce up downtown, this one small task could also get done.

• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.

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