Mayor halts his plans to build capitol

Botelho: Decision has little to do with city's debacle with state over money

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2005

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho's plan to dedicate a new capitol for the 50th anniversary of Alaska's statehood has evaporated.

Botelho said Wednesday evening that the city decided to halt its plan to build a new capitol for now, likely ending the vision for a new building by the 2009 anniversary.

"We don't see a likely prospect that the Legislature will fund our project," said Botelho, who has spearheaded Juneau's Capitol Building Commission. "This was a good effort. It just went into a brief hibernation."

Botelho called a special Assembly meeting Wednesday and announced the news after an closed-door discussion with Juneau's legislative lobbyists.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said the city currently doesn't have enough funding to continue supporting the project.

"We are at a point that we need $5 million to start the project," said Sanford, a member of Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission. "The money is not available."

Botelho said the city's decision had little to do with the city's recent debacle with the state.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities allocated $940,000 to the city to partially fund Juneau's capitol design competition. But some legislators and Gov. Frank Murkowski said they were unaware of the appropriation and demanded that Juneau return the money. The city returned the money on Friday.

Botelho cited several reasons for putting the project on hold.

"Stoltze's bids," Botelho said, referring to Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze's proposal to require voters' approval of all the costs associated with construction. "People don't particularly like the designs. There are strong editorial oppositions and quick criticism by some legislators."

Botelho said he doesn't know how long he'll keep the project on hold.

The mayor had planned to introduce Thom Mayne, winner of Juneau's capitol design competition, to the Legislature and the governor this week. Mayne's trip was canceled indefinitely.

After wrapping up its budget deliberations in June, the Assembly will assess not only the capitol project but others that will make Juneau a better capital, Botelho said.

He named airport terminal expansion as one of the projects the city will pursue.

During the meeting, City Manager Rod Swope suggested that the Assembly move into an executive session to discuss the capitol.

The project "has been intertwined with the old issue of moving the capital," Swope said.

City Attorney John Hartle said the Open Meetings Act allows the Assembly to meet in private when it discusses "matters, the immediate knowledge of which would clearly have an adverse effect upon the finances of the public entity."

"Based on the legislative actions and the editorials I've seen, any type of capital move will severely affect the economy of the city and borough of Juneau," Hartle said. It is appropriate to call executive sessions to plan strategy against a move, he said.

Botelho said he isn't sure whether the city will propose this project during the next legislative session.

"But we recognize at the end of the day, the project needs to happen," he said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at

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