Empire Editorial: Let's get behind downtown revitalization

The Alaskan Hotel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, in all its creaking glory, as do many other downtown buildings — buildings built to last, but with a tendency to burn and some outdated amenities. A walk through downtown Juneau shows a lot of character and a lot of history, but also empty storefronts, vacant lots and burnt out buildings.

 

We think downtown deserves an overall facelift and we support efforts to revitalize Alaska’s capital city.

With the breathtaking backdrop of Mount Juneau and Roberts, downtown really is the face of Juneau. For the more than a million tourists who visit Juneau each summer by cruise ship, downtown is the first thing they’ll see. For those arriving from elsewhere, the bustling waterfront is always on their agenda.

But let’s not do it just for the tourists; downtown is where the action is — First Friday gallery walks, live musical performances, the majority of restaurants, bars and cafés, and an abundance of shops. Maybe only a fraction of our population hang their hats in downtown neighborhoods, but it is the liveliest part of town.

Putting a damper on our downtown excitement are the vacant lots, boarded up buildings and empty storefronts. What once housed vibrant restaurants — before it housed pigeons nesting — is now a vacant lot at the corner of Fourth and Franklin Streets. The Palace Theatre is boarded up, with no shows gracing its stage or films on its silver screen. And there are plenty of empty storefronts amid the local shops.

Some have suggested downtown would benefit from having more residents milling about, but that would require more housing. Losing the Gastineau Apartments to a fire last year certainly didn’t help increase foot traffic downtown. But that’s not the only residential space that stands empty, there are apartments above the Gross Alaska Cinema that have stood empty for many years.

The root of many of these problems — and the solution — is money. Where are the investors? Where are the entrepreneurs? Where are the people with pocket change to spend?

It’s not hopeless.

We find hope in stories about the renovation and improvement of downtown buildings, like the Silverbow Bakery and Inn. We find hope in the buildings under construction, like the Walter Soboleff Center and the state capitol building. We find hope in seeing new decor and new energy in spaces like The Rookery Café and B’s Bakery and Bistro.

We have hope that support for a brighter Juneau will attract investors, entrepreneurs and more visitors, and we support continued efforts toward downtown revitalization.

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