Assembly hears scorn and praise for waterfront project

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

The city should either propel plans to redesign the Steamship Wharf-Marine Park area or shelve the project, residents told Assembly members Monday night.

Nearly 30 people testified about the drawbacks and benefits of a plan that will add 12 bus spaces, a convertible pedestrian plaza and green space to the area between the downtown library and Merchants Wharf. About 80 people packed Assembly chambers for the hearing.

Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch said the project will go before the Assembly on Monday where it will get either a red light or green light. The Assembly needs to make a decision by mid-April if it doesn't want to lose a construction season, he said. Under that schedule, changes could be in place for summer 2003, according to the city.

Sara Willson asked the Assembly not to proceed with the plan. Marine Park is a popular place for people to eat lunch and putting buses in the area will adversely affect local residents, she said.

"Let's value the candy that cruise ship passengers bring, but let's also value the fish, meat and vegetables that the people of Juneau bring," she said.

Eric Forst, who owns two downtown businesses, said the project will give people more room to eat lunch and enjoy the view of Douglas Island from the park. It also eases downtown traffic by getting buses off the street, he said.

"It allows the city to get a lot better park out of the situation," he said.

The city estimates the basic project will cost $5 million, a price tag mostly tied to the cost of new deck and pilings. The total doesn't include the cost of a removable passenger shelter, rest rooms, a temporary ice rink or "Gateway to Juneau" signs, which could bring the price to about $6 million. Funding for the project could come from a tonnage fee, passenger fees or sales taxes at the Assembly's direction, City Manager Dave Palmer said.

If the project increases the number of bus parking spaces near Steamship Wharf from seven to 12, that's about $1 million a space, Kim Metcalfe said. The city could buy the old police station next to the Red Dog Saloon and turn it into bus parking, she suggested.

"From a land use perspective, I can't think of anything worse than using prime waterfront land for bus parking," she said.

Marine Park is the closest thing Juneau has to a town square, said Odin Miller, 18. Bus parking would hurt the area, he said.

"Especially for youth, it's a place to hang out. It's the only area of downtown where people can skateboard and Rollerblade," he said. "The community is always saying we need more positive areas for youth. I feel this would be detrimental to the community and youth in general."

Under the current Steamship Wharf arrangement, empty tour buses often loop around to the Alaska State Museum if a parking space isn't available, adding to congestion, according to Gastineau Guiding owner Bob Janes. If a space is available, the bus gets into a line of coaches that is constantly moving forward, which can result in unnecessary idling, he said. The new arrangement would help solve both problems, he said.

Mark Vinsel said the project will help reduce the effects of industrial tourism. The plans should go a step further and provide more enclosed space for concerts at Marine Park, along with room for local art and street performances, he said.

"I think it would enhance the economy and vibrancy of downtown," he said.

Several people asked that the city find a way to incorporate Juneau's Native culture into the project. John Martin suggested a clan house or totem pole be added. The more people know about the Tlingit heritage in the Juneau area, the better, he said. The area also could be a place to educate visitors about Native artwork, said Carrie Sykes of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council's business and economic development department.

Assembly member Jeannie Johnson said if the city takes the project a step forward, she hopes there's room for more discussion about how young people and cultural opportunities can be incorporated into the plans.

Assembly member Jim Powell said he was concerned the city is ignoring the bigger context in terms of Juneau's waterfront.

"It seems like there's a big black hole in terms of planning for the larger area," he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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