Election saw business both win and lose

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005

Some in Juneau's business community are pleased that voters approved use of the city's optional 1 percent sales tax to extend city sewers and build a downtown parking garage - two projects that members of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce have championed.

It was a bright spot for them in an election that saw the Chamber of Commerce president lose his bid for an Assembly seat and voters defeat an airport remodel that some said was crucial to keeping the capital in Juneau.

"Extension of the city sewer is one of the major things that we need to get more housing development," said Chris Wyatt, executive director of Juneau Chamber of Commerce. "It will open up more opportunities for growth."

Juneau voters supported using the sales tax for a package that included sewer expansion, a downtown parking garage, Don Statter Boat Harbor expansion and a mid-mountain chairlift for Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Voters didn't support spending $26 million on an aquatic center in the Mendenhall Valley or $20 million toward the airport expansion.

Chuck Collins, owner of Copy Express, said the city should carefully design the downtown parking garage.

"We don't want a square box. We want something that can enhance our downtown experience," said Collins, who has been a member of task force to identify an ideal location for a downtown parking garage.

"Maybe we can add some retail at the bottom," Collins said. "We have little open space downtown. We have to be careful with what we have."

Wyatt, a member of the committee that has worked on the airport expansion project, said she is disappointed that the project didn't get voter support.

"This is a top priority of the Alaska Committee," Wyatt said. "We will continue working closely with them."

The Alaska Committee advocates for projects it considers enhancements to the city's capital status.

Collins said he was disappointed that David Summers, outgoing chamber president, didn't get elected to the Assembly. His opponent, Bob Doll, former state ferry director, won the at-large race.

"Bob wouldn't be as business-friendly as David but he is pretty good at listening," Collins said. "I hope Jonathan Anderson (the District 2 winner), will do his homework and make up his mind and not become another follower."

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said he wasn't surprised that voters approved the sewer package.

"Juneau voters appreciate the direct link between infrastructure needs and new housing construction," Botelho said.

The mayor said some voters didn't vote for the airport expansion and the aquatic center because of the substantial increase of property assessments, and sticker shock from the two projects.

"For the airport, people are not seeing some specific things that are broken. Some people also question the size of the parking garage," Botelho said.

Botelho said the aquatic center didn't get majority support because the city had rejected a joint venture with the JRC The Alaska Club. People also wonder why Petersburg can build a six-lane swimming pool for $8 million while Juneau has to build an eight-lane pool for $28 million.

"People are not able to evaluate why our pool is so much more expensive," Botelho said.

Botelho said he would suggest that the new Assembly conduct a community survey to understand the reasons voters didn't support these two projects.

"It may lead us to either revise the projects or abandon them," Botelho said. "In any event, I don't believe the Assembly will place identical projects on the ballot. The voters have expressed their dissatisfaction."

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said the Assembly should learn from the experience and prioritize capital-improvement projects before putting them in front of voters.

"We tried to do so much for everybody," Sanford said. "We should have picked one project and let people vote on it."

The Assembly can apply the lesson soon.

The city's optional 3 percent sales tax will expire June 30, 2007. The 1 percent tax renewed by voters last week lasts for two years and nine months.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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