Wharf should have unbiased survey

Letter to the editor

Posted: Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Your story shows the projected sale of Merchants Wharf to the city is a very odd duck. The owners say the building is old and needs to be torn down. They say since it contains hazardous material, it will have to be sawn up and sent south at a cost of $1.3 million. The cost of the property has gone from the appraised $3 million to $6 million to 7.5 million.

In other words, the city is to buy the current complex for twice the old assessed value, pay $1.3 million to demolish it, and then have a cleared area for the sea walk. And the current owners are going to reserve the parking lot, also on pilings, and build another complex. We have to assume that will have an impact on the open vista of the sea walk.

The Save the Wharf Committee regards the Wharf as a treasure. It was built in 1939 and is the oldest aviation-related building in Juneau. As Alaska embraced aviation early, it could be of national significance. The building should be surveyed by an unbiased engineer as all we have now is the findings of the owners. There are funds available for this, but only if it is nominated to the National Register of Historic Buildings. The owners are opposed.

To the disappointment of the committee, the city manager has dismissed this request. He says the city is not interested in buying the building and turning it over to a department or non-profit group to run as a business, although he has never met with the committee. If the building is in the derelict condition reported, that would be that.

There are many advantages to being on the National Register including low-interest loans, grants and national acknowledgment of historic importance. The process is simple; a request goes to the state board, and if they approve, it goes on to the national. It is said no state request is ever denied.

The proposed purchase is foolish. Let the owners wreck the building; why should the city pay? The taxpayers of Juneau are reeling from the increase in property taxes. Why should they pay to tear down a part of their history? And why should the cleared land be abutted by another view-blocking complex?

Dee Longenbaugh


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