Docks staff pushes for new digs

Existing shack would be replaced with multi-use building, house visitors center

Posted: Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A 12-by-20-foot wooden shack is home base to 10 security officers and 10 crossing guards who help almost 850,000 cruise ship passengers in Juneau every year.

The office near the Mount Roberts Tram station has only two desks, a coffee pot, a small refrigerator and a plug-in electric heater. It doesn't have restrooms or space for surveillance monitors.

The nearby visitor information center is no less Spartan. It is a green metal box with no public restrooms and limited space for information displays.

"It is indistinguishable and downright ugly," said Port Engineer Mike Krieber. "People usually stumble to the place while looking for restrooms."

To give visitors a better first impression of Juneau, the Juneau Docks and Harbors Department proposes demolishing the visitor center and the port office and constructing a multi-purpose building near the waterfront. Krieber explained the plan to the Juneau Assembly Waterfront Development Committee on Monday.

The new building would be near the existing visitor office. Its size would depend on how much money the Assembly is willing to pay.

A 5,000-square-foot version has two stories and combines a visitor center, a port director office, customs, a security guard office and public restrooms. That would cost about $3.9 million.

A 2,600-square-foot version has only one story and doesn't have a port director office or public restrooms. It would cost about $1.8 million.

Assembly member Marc Wheeler said the scaled-down version would be appropriate because the visitor center is a satellite office of the main center at Centennial Hall.

Port Director John Stone said funding for the project would come from marine passenger and port fees.

But whether and when the project could proceed would depend on the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The site is within a velocity flood zone, where FEMA limits buildings beyond the high tide line unless it deems the buildings necessary for direct waterfront and dock operations, Krieber said.

"It's unknown if the visitor center use would be approved by FEMA," Krieber said.

The zone classification has put another city project on hold. The Community Development Department plans to move the buildings on South Franklin Street toward the waterfront so the sidewalks could be widened to at least 16 feet. That project is pending because some buildings would be moved to the velocity flood zone.

Community Development Director Dale Pernula said the city has been negotiating with FEMA for the past few months but it's unknown when the issue could be resolved.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at

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