Business owners are concerned about getting fair market value for their property under a city proposal to widen South Franklin Street to alleviate congestion.
The city Engineering Department is working on proposals to widen the street lanes or the sidewalks, city engineer Rorie Watt said. The proposals would affect five properties: two vacant parcels, Timberwolf Gifts, Pioneer Jewelry and the People's Wharf building.
Business owners support the project but are concerned about getting fair market value for the property they would sell to allow the city rights of way, Watt said.
Bill Heumann, owner of the People's Wharf building, agrees with the concept, but is concerned about the financial effect of the project, he said.
Heumann's building occupies 30 feet of frontage on South Franklin Street and about 130 feet on the side, he said. If the city cuts off part of Heumann's storefront, he questions how to replace that loss in order to retain the same property value. Rents on South Franklin Street are worth twice that of rental space toward the rear of his building, he said.
The city would seek 24 to 30 feet of right of way if it widened the sidewalk. The street lanes would be widened 4 or 5 feet if the city pursued the option of widening lanes, Watt said.
The project would push a portion of People's Wharf and Pioneer Jewelry buildings away from pedestrian traffic and toward the water, Heumann said. Timberwolf Gifts owner Michael Tripp plans to raze his building and rebuild. Watt saw Tripp's plan as an opportunity to widen the street area, he said.
The city has the power to condemn a building to gain a right of way, but Watt said the city would rather negotiate a price with business owners.
Heumann said the city should pay for an architect to study how his building could be reconfigured to retain its value.
If the city could show Heumann how the building could retain its value, he would be more negotiable in his selling price. If Heumann is met with uncertainty about the future value of his property, then he will seek the highest price he can, he said.
The project was a result of Juneau Assembly members' concerns over downtown congestion, because the number of visitors has tripled during the summer season, Watt said. The Assembly approved $30,000 to study the plan.
The estimated construction cost of the road, sidewalk, landscape and utility improvements is $650,000 to $850,000. Buying rights of way may cost $1.5 million to $2.8 million. Funding sources include cruise ship passenger fees and state and federal money.
Watt has been updating the Assembly's Public Works Committee on the project's status. He will present a final plan to the Assembly this winter.
Assembly members Jim Powell and Dan Peterson said they support widening the street in some way, but acknowledged that affected business owners need to be considered. Powell suggested a wider walkway would reduce congestion and improve pedestrians' experience of being downtown.
Assembly member Marc Wheeler said the timing of the project is opportune because of Tripp's plan to rebuild Timberwolf Gifts.
"This is a spark of light in the darkness of trying to find a solution (to pedestrian congestion)," Wheeler said.
Tara Sidor can be reached at email@example.com.
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