Fill the hole and turn on the lights

Posted: Sunday, February 07, 2010

The recent robbery in downtown Juneau, the third at the same establishment, has increased thoughts about what Juneau can do to improve the heart of our city. Two ideas come quickly to mind.

First, deal with the hole in the center of town, the one currently filling with alders and garbage. The economy isn't great. So who really wants to build a new building and try to make it profitable right now? But there is a building in the works that could fit the bill: The new State Office Building, currently slated for the waterfront on the way out of town. Instead of on the waterfront, let's put this building in the hole.

There are all sorts of benefits of this. For starters, there would be no hole downtown. State employees would have easy access to parking and a great public transportation system with the new parking garage and transit center nearby. Downtown eateries and restaurants would get a year-round boost. Downtown stores also would benefit.

Juneau should learn from what Anchorage did in the past couple of years, removing buildings that had become an eyesore or a hazard after the owners would not do anything about them. Juneau should condemn the hole and fill it with a building, which would then fill with people. People are what downtown needs.

The second idea is to pass a "no dark" or "limited dark" ordinance for property north of the library. Require currently shuttered businesses to be open for 11 months or more each year. Use inventive ideas like The Canvas. The storefronts can be jewelry stores, rug stores and curio stores during the cruise ship months. But in the off season, let's do something different, such as making the space available to artists from around the state and nation. Provide low-cost studios for artists and provide opportunities for public engagement in downtown. Offer some carrots to the owners of these properties and see what happens, because it actually can't get much worse.

We have a pretty small community in Juneau; there aren't enough people to keep lots of stores open all year long. But we can be strategic about where we locate new office buildings to support downtown and we can be strategic about bringing new people and ideas to town to revitalize the core of Juneau.

Amy Skilbred


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