Rain fails to drive people from park opening, festivities

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2003

Despite the delay in the fireworks, the Marine Park Plaza Grand Opening and Community Celebration went on as scheduled Thursday.

Intermittent rain did not stop hundreds of people from gathering for the official opening of the expanded waterfront park and bus parking area. Several local groups performed in a program that was to run from 5 p.m. until the fireworks. Instead, the fireworks were put off from Thursday night to Friday night because of rain and wind.

Pilar Scott, a member of Daughters of the New Moon belly dancing troop, said, "We are hardcore Juneau people, we don't quit with rain."

Fellow dancer Heather Gurewitz agreed, saying, "It is wet, but you keep pretty warm dancing."

The $6.1 million project began late last fall, with Trucano Construction of Juneau as the main contractor. City Engineer Rorie Watt said the project was built on schedule and within the budget. He said it will provide 12 new diagonal bus-parking spaces.

Reaction was generally positive. Phil Pallenberg said, "This is a beautiful new parking lot."

Sue Ryan, a 21-year resident, said, "I wasn't sure how it would turn out but it looks really nice."

She came down to the park with her husband and 2-year-old son Daniel. Daniel, along with the many other children present, enjoyed seeing Mr. McFeely and the band of puppet characters he brought, as well as a full-sized purple panda.

The children also enjoyed the services of two members of the Juneau Joeys clown troupe. The clown Lorenzo spent four hours non-stop tying balloons for fresh-faced youngsters. Lorenzo said the rain didn't put a damper in the balloon making, "but it sure makes them squeak."

Some present at the celebration had concerns about the new facility. One woman who did not want to be named said the plaza was beautiful, but she found it "a pity that we're using city dollars basically to build a parking area for buses for a very profitable tourism industry that can afford to pay for their own amenities."

Isaac Milligan, 17, said that he didn't like the change.

"I don't like picturing buses here all the time. It brings smoggy air to Marine Park," he said.

Mayor Sally Smith addressed both criticisms. She said the project has added 6,000 new square feet of green space.

"This has been a partnership; it hasn't been just the city and borough of Juneau building a bus parking lot," she said.

The city, the cruise ship industry, the Downtown Business Association and other groups were involved, she said. Smith said the partnership "came up with something that could serve the needs of all of these groups."

Smith said she expects there will be concerts, flea markets, art shows, dances and other uses for the space, such as watching fireworks. Smith also said the development will improve downtown traffic congestion and reduce smog and noise by moving bus passengers more quickly.

Vini Lata said he likes the new park because it relieves congestion on the other side of the downtown parking garage.

"It brings more business to the community on this side," he said.

Leslie Elvebak, parks and recreation program manager who organized the event, said the Parks and Recreation Department will facilitate scheduling of events.

"Groups that want to use this space will come to me," she said. "I will tell them when it is available and they can put on a farmers market, an art walk, a mini carnival or family day. ... There is a lot of weekend and evening time where it will be available for use."

Lata added that the new space would facilitate fireworks watching.

"Tomorrow, people can camp out here; they don't have to line up on the marine dock. Last year it was outrageous."

Lata thought it was a good idea to put off the fireworks in hopes of improved weather, noting that last year the fireworks were just a blur of colors in the low clouds.

"It was a waste of money," he said. "The city spent thousands of dollars on that and nobody was able to appreciate them."

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