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Whale sculpture funding likely to be reconsidered

City lawyer: Passenger fees could pay for some site work on seawalk

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A decision by the Juneau Assembly on Monday night on the funding of a bronze whale sculpture is likely to be reconsidered since Assembly member Randy Wanamaker gave notice of reconsideration after the vote.

The Assembly voted 5-3 Monday to provide $500,000 in city sales tax funds to a group of private citizens called the Whale Committee to start the project, which is expected to cost $2.5 million.

Wanamaker said Tuesday he will bring the ordinance up again at the Assembly's regular meeting on Sept. 8. If a majority votes to reconsider, board members would discuss the issue and take another vote. If they do not, Monday's decision stands.

More than 40 e-mails were received at City Hall containing public comments on the issue by late Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Rod Swope said.

Wanamaker will request the reconsideration because the city already promised to build a different project on the proposed site at Marine Park, he said.

"I think the Assembly should honor the commitment it has already made to our citizens before taking on a similar one or placing a new project in front of the Cultural Gateway," he said.

The Cultural Gateway Project was approved in 2002 to include a centerpiece of the first people of Juneau welcoming visitors to the city, said Wanamaker, who has been on the Assembly since 2001. The project was to include a portable ice rink for families to use in winter, he said.

Wanamaker also said the whale sculpture needs more detailed planning work before it can be fairly considered. He suggested the committee obtain broader public support before asking for public funding.

The life-sized bronze sculpture is planned along the waterfront downtown, but Swope said Tuesday the city has not pinpointed a location.

The Whale Committee hopes to install it next year to celebrate Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood.

Discussion by elected officials Monday centered on whether it's appropriate to use sales tax reserves to pay for art, or if cruise ship passenger fees might be available.

The city collects a $5 per-passenger fee, generating about $4 million annually. Spending is restricted under the Maritime Security Act to issues of safety and efficiency for the transport of passengers.

Because the seawalk is essentially a sidewalk for tourists, part of the sculpture and its base would qualify if the art were located along it, Hartle said Tuesday. He did not attend Monday's meeting.

"The bronze part of the sculpture - the art - I don't see how it would qualify for marine passenger fees," he said.

Artist Skip Wallen is working on the design. The cost of production is estimated at $1.2 million. Site preparation to accommodate fountains and an "infinity" pool is estimated to cost another $1.3 million.

The whale committee has nearly $375,000 in promised donations, spokeswoman Laraine Derr said. The group is in the process of filing for nonprofit status.



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