Some local leaders are reluctant to discuss a plan by Republican State House District 3 candidate Mike Race to build a new Capitol in Juneau while the community faces a battle to keep the Legislature here.
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Race, who owns a real-estate business, came out strongly this week in support of rejuvenating a plan from the early '90s to build a new Capitol on Telephone Hill, a small neighborhood next to the State Office Building downtown.
Race contends a new Capitol would help prevent future move initiatives.
"Now is the time to stop playing Russian roulette with Juneau's economy and finally put an end to the capital-move threat," Race said in a prepared statement. "To paraphrase the movie 'Field of Dreams,' if we build it they'll stay."
Rep. Beth Kerttula, Race's Democratic opponent, throughout the campaign has said she supports improvements that would make Juneau more accommodating to lawmakers. But she said right now the city needs to focus on battling the move initiative.
"There's a time and a place to make any decision," Kerttula said. "Right now Juneau's efforts need to be focused on defeating Ballot Measure 2."
Tom Biss, treasurer for the Race campaign, said the candidate waited until late in the campaign to present the idea because of concerns pro-move groups would seize on plans to build a new Capitol in Juneau.
In 1993, plans for a new Capitol were shelved after voters rejected a local 2 percent sales tax to pay the estimated $56.5 million cost of the building. The local proposition failed with 66.5 percent voting no.
Former Juneau Mayor Jamie Parsons said backers of the new Capitol shelved the concept indefinitely after the proposition failed by such a large margin.
Parsons said although building the Capitol was encouraged at the time by former Gov. Walter Hickel's administration, it never was made clear whether the state would commit to using the building once it was completed.
"The administration did not come out and say 'we will lease the space,' so that hurt us," Parsons said.
Some opponents made the argument that any new state building should be paid for by the state, Parsons said.
Under Race's plan, the city would bond for the project and lease the building to the state to cover bond payments.
Biss said by bonding for the project the city would have a stronger voice in the look of the building and how it fits with the rest of the city. He said the project also would include room for other governmental departments, freeing up office space in downtown Juneau.
Former Mayor Bruce Botelho, now Alaska's attorney general, said the city considered bonding for a new Capitol in the early '90s, but the idea was dropped because the high price tag would have limited Juneau's ability to bond for future projects.
"My guess is that our financial picture has not changed that much, so it would still be an issue," he said.
At that time, officials feared bonding for a new Capitol would hurt the chances for bonding to build a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley, Botelho said.
"It becomes a policy call of tradeoffs," he said.
Getting the Legislature and the governor to agree to lease the space posed additional hurdles to beginning the project, he added.
Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, a nonprofit group charged with improving the capital city and fighting move initiatives, said the group has been studying improvements to the existing Capitol for the past 18 months.
Gruening said the study is on the back burner while the group fights Ballot Measure 2.
"We don't want to raise the issue," Gruening said. "We don't know if (a new Capitol) is needed or not."
He said the group is looking at improving parking at the Capitol and possibly vacating part of 5th Street and connecting the Capitol with the Terry Miller Building, which houses Legislative Affairs Agency offices.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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