Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Pocket Park is panel target: Kraig Bridgman smokes a cigarette Tuesday at Gunakadeit Park, also known as Pocket Park, at the corner of Franklin and Front streets. The Juneau Chamber of Commerce Downtown Business Committee met Tuesday to discuss plans to turn downtown into a better place. "They're trying to get rid of people," Bridgman said.
Pocket Park, a small downtown lot and bus stop across from the Triangle Building, continues to be a thorn in the business community's side, so members of a new Juneau Chamber of Commerce committee say they're watching it.
The Downtown Business Committee put the issue near the top of its agenda Tuesday night, along with parking, lighting and vagrancy.
The group's focus is to promote safety and the attractiveness of downtown Juneau.
"It's an issue we've been trying to work on and that we do not want to ignore," said Chris Wyatt, executive director of the chamber.
Explaining their frustration with Pocket Park, members cited reports of park visitors urinating on property, breaking windows of nearby stores and starting fights.
Holly Bierkortte, representing Wings Airways and the Downtown Business Association, said shops are losing tourist business because of the park's attendees.
"It's just not pleasant to be around there," she said.
Police Capt. Tom Porter said visitors cannot drink in the park, but it is legal to be there while intoxicated. He added that officers patrol it regularly.
Kraig Bridgman, a park regular, said business owners are discriminating.
"This is a public park," he said. "If they don't like it, they can go somewhere else."
The city is working on remodeling the park to address some of the problems. Next month, the city may find out if that project is possible when it solicits bids for construction, City Manager Rod Swope said.
Designs by local firm Jensen Yorba Lott call for restrooms, landscaping, a water display and artwork to improve the park's image, Swope said.
Pocket Park's official name is Gunakadeit Park, after a mythical Tlingit sea creature that brings good luck to those who spot it. City project architect Catherine Wilkins said designers are working with that theme.
The designs also include the bus stop - something the public strongly advocated keeping. The new bus stop will not have the same generously covered seating.
"It may not be as attractive to people wanting to hang out or sleep on the benches," Swope said.
The city will not commit to construction if the bids are beyond the $800,000 budget, Swope said.
"That's not acceptable," said Joe Everhart of the downtown branch of Wells Fargo. He wants the group and others to keep pressing the city to come up with solutions for the park, even if they don't pursue the remodeling project.
Business owners said it was a major blow when the city decided it wasn't feasible to set up a police substation at Pocket Park.
One primary reason was that the street does not have enough space for a squad car to park full-time for emergencies, Swope said.
Jensen Yorba Lott told the city that its design would be under budget. But Swope said current construction costs are up, due to an abundance of local projects and prices of materials rising after Hurricane Katrina.
The committee also suggested more or brighter lighting downtown.
Chuck Collins, owner of Copy Express and chairman of the group, said he did not have any problems with the Glory Hole homeless shelter being located at its Franklin Street location. Some business owners have advocated that the shelter relocate.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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