Cost of seawalk may shift to the city

Businesses' share would decrease to 20 percent

Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A seawalk connecting Juneau's waterfront activities sounds like a great idea, until someone has to figure out who should build it and how.

A pedestrian walkway between Douglas Bridge and the AJ Rock Dump has been envisioned for years and is considered the most important project in the city's Long-range Waterfront Plan. City officials, though, say the idea needs fine-tuning so what's actually built is cohesive.

The current city regulation, which was adopted in the 1980s, requires property owners along the waterfront to shoulder the entire cost of the seawalk. But now the Juneau Assembly is considering paying for 80 percent, with owners covering the rest in exchange for receiving more pedestrian customers.

The regulation fails to specify what the seawalk should look like and doesn't conform to the waterfront plan. The regulation says the seawalk should be at least 10 feet wide, but the waterfront plan says it should be 16 feet wide.

Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said she worries that continuing under the current guidelines will lead to a piecemeal project.

That scenario already is visible in one part of South Franklin Street. The little deck behind the Pioneer Jewelers shop on South Franklin Street is considered a seawalk but it is not connected to anything.

"Let's just say it is a little bit goofy," said Rorie Watt, the city's chief engineer for capital improvement projects. "Under the current ordinance, things like this can happen and don't make sense."

The Assembly Waterfront Development Committee has agreed to amend the city code, making it the city's responsibility to build the project.

Watt said the city will consider making the seawalk a local improvement district project, with the waterfront property owners paying for 20 percent and the city paying the rest.

"The idea is that if we build the seawalk, the shops will have additional frontage and get more foot traffic," Watt said.

The Assembly is expected to revise the ordinance in late September.

Watt said the city doesn't know the total cost of the project but has done some preliminary assessments on portions of the project.

To build a 750-foot-long seawalk from the Miner's Cove Retail Store on Thane Road to Taku Smokeries/Fisheries would cost $1.9 million, Watt said.

Eric Norman, general manager of Taku Smokeries/Fisheries, said it is too early to know whether the seawalk will divert the traffic to the company's retail store on South Franklin Street.

Norman said he isn't certain how much his company will have to contribute to the seawalk construction in front of the shop because the project may not happen within a year or two.

"The cost might go up," Norman said. "Right now, we are not sure if the seawalk is a good thing or not for us."

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