It is not just about the capitol. It's about the capital.
As members of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce flew to Juneau to meet legislators the past two days, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho took the opportunity to sell his capitol building plan to them.
It was a tough sell.
Chamber member Ted Quinn of Juneau said the mayor would have a hard time persuading the Legislature to approve any of the four designs that were released last week.
"The concepts are a little bit out there," said Quinn, vice president of Capital Office Systems. "People of the state tend to be more conservative."
Chamber member Eric Britten from Anchorage said the issue can be boiled down to whether the capital should be in Juneau.
"If the Legislature has to approve a long-term lease with Juneau, the Legislature will interpret it as an agreement that Juneau should be where the capitol resides," said Britten, manager of ocean carrier Horizon Lines. He said he feels torn about the capital-move issue but believes no matter where the capital is, it should be more easily accessible than Juneau is now.
Chamber member Ginger Stock-McKenzie, owner of a Fairbanks Web design firm, said she needs more information about the funding mechanism and the benefits of building a new capitol to determine whether she would support Botelho's project.
"If the state decides to build a capitol, the state should build a road to Juneau," Stock-McKenzie said. "If the state decides to move the capital, I don't see the need to build a road."
Stock-McKenzie said she is prone to leaving the capital in Juneau at this stage.
"I like what the mayor said about Fairbanks being the educational center, Anchorage the economic center and Juneau the political center," she said.
The dubious responses are typical, as Botelho said in his presentation.
Botelho said people who oppose the new capitol can be divided into four categories - those who think the current building is good enough; those who say Juneau can build it but don't want to spend public money on it; those who don't think the state should build it unless they can drive to it; and those who say the state should build it somewhere else.
A fifth category was added after the release of the designs: Those who didn't care for any of the four concepts.
"I think it's fair to say that one could hear the collective air sucked out of the room," Botelho said. "These concepts turn our concepts of what we think a capitol should look like upside down. People say they don't look Alaskan but that raises the question: What does look Alaskan?"
Botelho stressed that none of these design concepts will be the capitol.
"The real design of the capitol begins once we have selected the team we believe is most capable of doing the job," Botelho said. "This is not the end product. This is the beginning of the dialogue."
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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