The Juneau Assembly on Monday unanimously approved plans to add bus staging, a pedestrian plaza and green space to the Marine Park-Steamship Wharf area downtown.
The vote follows weeks of community debate about how the project would affect downtown congestion, businesses, open space, recreation and cultural opportunities.
The first phase of the project would deck-over the open area at Steamship Wharf and turn it into a convertible bus-staging area and pedestrian plaza. Green space, rest rooms and a multi-cultural "Gateway to Juneau" structure also would be added. The city will develop guidelines for the use of the area, based on the Assembly's direction.
The basic cost of the project - excluding rest rooms and the gateway structure - would be $5.05 million, based on preliminary city estimates. The Assembly is discussing how to fund the project.
While the Assembly's discussion was largely positive, it hit a rough spot when Assembly member Dale Anderson moved to add wording that calls on the city to design and construct the project.
"This project has been designed to death," he said. "The people who have voted for us put us in a position of authority and have a trust in what we do. ... We have to move forward with confidence."
Assembly members Marc Wheeler and Frankie Pillifant voted against a motion to add the words "and construct" to the motion, but supported the overall project.
"I'm stunned we move so quickly to separate ourselves when we should be working together," Pillifant said. "A lot of people have been working hard to come to 'yes' on this."
Assembly member Randy Wanamaker asked that elders and artists help design a multi-cultural "Gateway to Juneau" element for the project. The plaza could be used by jump-rope groups or Celebration dancers, he said.
"I agree we need a comprehensive (downtown waterfront) plan, but sometimes certain elements just need to be decided and acted upon, and this is one of those times," he said. "I don't think the bus-staging area will interfere with the public use of the area."
Assembly member Jeannie Johnson also supported the project.
"I see this as a good thing for our community, and I don't see buses parked there forever," she said. "I think, in time, we will find a different place to put them."
Wheeler proposed that the city develop operational guidelines for bus loading, idling, backup alarms and for musical performances. The Assembly also will ask its committees to consider whether a small ice-skating rink, skateboard park, or temporary passenger shelter should be added to the project.
During public comment, downtown resident Page Bridges told Assembly members that she objected to the plans. Adding space for buses in the park area won't help businesses in the historic district downtown, she said.
"As I came here tonight, I walked around the corner and wondered what it would be like with a 'bus barn' there," she said. "The best thing for the cruise ship industry is to maintain the livability and charm of Juneau."
But Galligaskins gift shop co-owner Rod Swope said the project is important to businesses in the historic downtown area. Over the years, more cruise ships have been docking further down South Franklin Street to the detriment of businesses in the downtown core, he said.
"It's quite simple. People shop where their ship is," he said. "We've lost a large number of people coming up to our area. If there's not a ship there, you just don't see people in the historic part of town."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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