The Marine Park-Steamship Wharf redesign is scheduled to go out to bid Friday, but the project probably won't be finished before the start of next year's tourism season.
The Juneau Assembly earlier this year approved a proposal to add bus staging, a convertible plaza and green space to the area between the downtown library and Merchants Wharf. Plans initially called for the project to be finished by May 15, but city Engineering Director John Stone said the city's design team thinks July 1 is a more feasible target.
An earlier deadline could add to the project's cost through overtime, work in the winter and contractors who figure damages for a late finish into a bid, Stone said. Additionally, the project involves high-quality surfacing and suspended work over water, he said.
"Allowing extra time gives better weather to do better work," he said.
Even with next year's construction under way, people will be able to use Marine Park, the sidewalk and wharf during the first part of the cruise ship season, Stone said. The plan is to open the new plaza by the July 4 fireworks, he added.
"The perimeter will be open for the public and bus staging," he said. "It will function very much the way it does now."
City officials are researching ways to keep the project within budget and they plan to insert a list of alternates into the bid package to gauge costs, Stone said. A $4.7 million construction estimate prepared this week is $500,000 higher than earlier planned.
To control costs, the city could surface the bus staging area and plaza with colored, textured asphalt instead of interlocking colored concrete bricks, Stone said. The city also could scale back the park design to a series of grassy knolls or forgo a coating that would make the piles last longer, he said.
"We need to see what we get on the bids," he said.
In an agreement with the city, cruise lines agreed to pay 75 percent of the $5.4 million total project cost through a newly imposed port development fee. The city would pick up the rest. If the bids are more than 10 percent higher than the estimates, the city agreed to consult with industry representatives.
Much of the construction cost is for piles and structural concrete. But Assembly member Jeannie Johnson said some of high-quality elements, such as the park and the plaza's surface, are important to community members.
"There's a lot of money that goes underneath where you can't see, but when you have to start cutting the piece that the community agreed on, we're going to have to take a long, hard look at that," she said.
Assembly member Don Etheridge said he doesn't see a delay in the project's completion date as a major problem.
"I think we'll be able to make it work to lessen the price and get a better product," he said. "I think we can live with a little inconvenience."
Etheridge also said he is confident the city can meet its budget.
"If we're not able to whittle it down enough, we should be able to come up with additional funding from both sides to make it work," he said. "The contingency is a pretty large contingency we can look at."
The city needs a conditional use permit before it awards a bid. A Juneau Planning Commission public hearing on the permit is scheduled for Aug. 13. Part of that meeting will include a discussion about when the plaza would be blocked off to buses and open for pedestrian use only. Interim City Manager John MacKinnon said scheduling likely will be done annually.
Meanwhile, discussions about a cultural gateway for the project should begin soon, Stone said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.