My turn: Merchants' Wharf requires millions to remain standing

Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

There have been several opinion columns published in the Juneau Empire regarding the future of Merchants' Wharf. Most of these opinion pieces have featured a similar theme: "Preserve Merchants' Wharf."

We, as owners of the wharf, appreciate the good intentions of those who authored the columns but believe they paint an incomplete picture of the factors that must be considered regarding any decision on the wharf property's future. Here are the factors that we, as owners of the wharf property, believe are integral to its fate.

While we agree that the wharf is a building with an interesting history linked to it, the simple fact is that it is also an aging building which needs continual, expensive maintenance and repair to keep it open to the public. And this repair and maintenance work is not without major costs. For example, readily available parking is essential to the wharf's businesses and is an important convenience for wharf customers. However, providing parking is an expensive element in operating the wharf. We estimate that it will cost $1 million to repair and upgrade the wooden deck parking lot to keep it serviceable in the future.

Also, to perform the maintenance and repairs on the wharf building itself, such as replacement of pilings and crossbeams underneath the building, could cost several million additional dollars. It is clear to us there is no way that the wharf building can generate adequate rental revenues to justify millions of dollars of maintenance and repair work that will be needed to keep the building open.

Given this set of economic circumstances, more than two years ago the wharf's owners began an extensive review of options available to us that would get the property back on solid economic footing. Among the options we considered was one which would put the wharf's property to the highest and best economic use. That option included removal of the existing building and construction of a new retail complex, that would include current wharf businesses, on the uplands portion of our property. We are continuing to pursue this option.

Additionally, the wharf's owners followed the extensive process that occurred in the development of the CBJ's long term waterfront development plan. One of the options recommended in the plan was the extension of Marine Park into property currently occupied by the wharf building.

After formal adoption of the plan by the Juneau Assembly, the Merchants' Wharf partnership approached the city with a proposal to buy the wharf property and recommended that the CBJ seriously consider extending Marine Park into the property now occupied by the wharf building. We strongly support this option.

We believe it is in the public interest to expand Marine Park into the wharf property but understand that is a decision that must be made by the Assembly after a full and open public debate occurs on this proposal.

At this juncture, prospects for expanding Marine Park are uncertain. However, what is not uncertain is the partnership's plan for the future of the wharf property: by November of 2008, or sooner if the situation dictates, it will be necessary to close the wharf and pursue other economic options for the property that may be available to us at that time.

As members of the partnership, we are always open to discussions regarding ways in which the wharf property can be utilized to benefit the community as well as the partners. We live in this community, believe in its future and want to make it a better place to live, work and raise our families.

We believe expansion of Marine Park would be a valuable addition to downtown Juneau and a valuable asset to the community. However, we understand there are those may not agree with us. We only ask that those who do not support Marine Park expansion consider the fact that the future of our property, in our view, boils down to these fundamental choices: 1) expand Marine Park into the wharf property; or 2) allow one the last valuable pieces of Juneau's waterfront property be developed to its highest and best economic use.

However, we remain open to discuss any other reasonable ideas which concerned members of our community may have regarding the wharf's future.

• Juneau residents Jerry Reinwand and Kim Hutchinson are members of the Merchants' Wharf Partnership.

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