Empire editorial: Celebrate a waterfront improvement on Thursday

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

Next Thursday the community will celebrate the completion of a long-awaited improvement to Juneau's waterfront.

A "community celebration" hosted by the CBJ and its cruise industry partners is planned for the evening of July 3 to commemorate the completion of the Steamship Wharf/Marine Park improvement project in the area now known as Marine Park Plaza.

The organizers have arranged a wonderful evening of food and local entertainment to be capped off with a fireworks display. Families are urged to attend and bring their lawn chairs.

The city's contractor has been working feverishly to finish work on the plaza in time for the Fourth of July weekend.

The Marine Park Plaza area has a long and colorful history and has kindled its share of controversy over the past several years. Of course, it was first known as a port of entry for steamships during the first half of the last century.

In the not-too-distant past, the area was home to apartments, an office supply store, a fishing equipment vendor, and various other buildings. The city built Marine Park in 1979 and it quickly became a favorite place for mostly downtown folks to hang out.

In 1999 the Juneau Assembly rejected an ambitious $7.5 million docks and harbors bus staging and park improvement project targeted for the area, largely due to the high cost and stiff opposition to the concept.

Last year the Assembly approved a final concept for the wharf/park area that greatly improved upon the earlier design by providing a convertible plaza, 6,000 square feet of additional green space and an innovative way to accommodate bus staging that will also reduce congestion on downtown streets.

The bulk of the project's costs are being borne by the cruise ship industry, but as local residents will discover next Thursday, Juneau is also gaining a great community asset.

The public invitation for the celebration describes Marine Park Plaza as being "in the heart of downtown" and that bit of symbolism may prove to stand for something much greater.

Marine Park Plaza represents something of a turning point for the community in that out of a deeply controversial issue, a very positive thing has been created, the product of good public process.

The successful and quick (by Juneau standards) completion of this municipal project involved a lot of public input and hard work by a lot of dedicated people. The problems with the project were worked out by compromise and the end result is not a cobbled together "committee effort" but an attractive, well-designed, functional, multiple use facility.

The Docks and Harbors Board's long-range waterfront development study is another public process that is generating a lot of public participation and many creative ideas.

The area being studied is large enough to accommodate a lot of dreams, including a seawalk and more green space.

The Marine Park area could some day end up being one component of much larger green space that could truly become the heart of not only downtown Juneau but of the whole borough, and possibly the state if the dream of building a new capitol complex on Telephone Hill is ever realized.

Don Smith



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