Historic building vs. place to park

Assembly OKs funds to tear down JAMHI building for parking; critics say town will lose piece of history

Posted: Friday, January 31, 2003

The city's plan to turn two downtown buildings into a parking lot is drawing a mixed reaction from nearby residents and businesses.

The Juneau Assembly on Monday allocated $460,000 to tear down two buildings occupied by the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc. at the corner of Second and Franklin streets. The yellow JAMHI building and the Colonial Apartments will be demolished this spring and turned into a 40-space parking lot.

The unpaved lot likely will be designated for long-term lease parking, Interim City Manager John MacKinnon said. The goal is to give downtown workers a place to park and to open spaces on the street for shoppers, he said.

"It will be up to the Assembly to look at," he said. "We could reserve stalls for the Legislature for long-term lease parking. That will be their call."

While some residents would rather have the buildings stay in place, others say the parking is needed desperately.

Assembly member Jeannie Johnson described the lot as a "stopgap" measure to ease the downtown parking crunch.

"We need those parking spaces," she said. "It's kind of a short-term fix I see because eventually we will be able to design something where you're not walking down the street and seeing a parking lot. We're sensitive to that."

A city Downtown Revitalization Committee last year recommended the property be turned into a parking garage with retail and office space on the ground level facing North Franklin Street. Johnson, who served on that committee, said another idea is to add artwork to the site.

But some people have criticized the move as shortsighted. Dee Longenbaugh, who owns The Observatory book and map store across the street, said the building has historic qualities that should be retained.

"Bit by bit we're dismantling downtown Juneau, the historic part of town," she said. "The problem with parking is you build it and they will come. The more parking they build, the more parking you will need."

The yellow JAMHI building was built in 1904 and used by the International Order of the Odd Fellows, a service club, according to the Juneau Townsite Historic Buildings Survey produced by the city in 1988.

The two buildings are not on the National Register of Historic Places, said Gary Gillette, an architect with the city who has a background in historic planning. While the buildings meet the register's age criteria of being at least 50 years old, no one has analyzed them for the designation, he said.

"The commercial building has been remodeled so much that it's probably lost its architectural integrity. I don't know what they've done inside," he said. "The residential building, I haven't looked at it real close. It doesn't appear to have been remodeled as much."

Johnson, a real estate agent, said almost any building downtown has a historic element.

"That (main) building was on the market for a year and a half and there were no buyers," she said. "It's a great idea to think someone would take and restore it, but being in the commercial real estate market downtown, I don't see anyone that would do that."

JAMHI is trading its buildings downtown for city-owned offices in Salmon Creek, said Executive Director Brenda Knapp. The organization's business and clinic operations already have moved to Salmon Creek, while its crisis-respite and transitional-living programs will move from the Colonial Apartments to Lemon Creek, she said.

The Green House, a drop-in center in the yellow JAMHI building, is moving elsewhere downtown, she said.

"All of that will be taking place in February," Knapp said. "As soon as it's complete, we will finalize the trade with the city. We aren't losing programs, we're relocating them."

The Colonial Apartments building has five one-bedroom transition units and five crisis respite beds for emergencies, plus space for staff, JAMHI clinical director Pat Murphy said.

• Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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