City revives wharf, park plan

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Juneau Assembly members on Monday restarted plans to upgrade the Alaska Steamship Wharf and nearby Marine Park to give people and buses more room.

At a joint committee meeting, Assembly members directed staff to report back in mid-January with a new plan for the downtown dock area and waterfront park that takes the public and the cruise-ship industry into consideration.

"At this point, we're having them bring back a basic, bare-bones plan to help with the transportation bottleneck and make sure we do no harm to the park," Assembly member Ken Koelsch said.

A plan to redesign the wharf and Marine Park area in 1999 erupted into a controversy over size and cost. A bus turnaround, part of the original plans, was constructed earlier this year. The new plan will build on recent improvements and update information in the older designs, according to Rorie Watt of the city's engineering department.

"With the turnaround, the parameters change somewhat," he said.

Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said staff members will bring back information about two plans for bus staging near the wharf. One calls for 12 angled bus parking spaces, another includes room for nine parallel bus spaces.

"The parallel lane plan needs to be developed more," she said. "At this point, we're still in the information-gathering stage for each of these concepts."

Older plans also called for an expansion of Marine Park, a so-called "deck-over" in the wharf area, a bus shelter, rest rooms and a visitor center.

Pierce said the city will provide more information about cost, funding sources and a process for public input. Another goal is to look at how the loading zones are managed and buses are dispatched, she said.

Assembly Planning and Policy Committee Chairman Dale Anderson asked that the new plan address port security issues and Capital Transit. Assembly members don't want a big visitor center, but would like to see public rest rooms and a larger pavilion at Marine Park for concerts and gatherings, Anderson said.

Assembly member Jim Powell said the city will have to work with the cruise ship industry to identify a funding source. Cruise ship passenger fees or the tonnage fee are possibilities, he said.

"We've got to modernize that area," he said.

Powell voiced support for more open space, a bigger pavilion and less congestion in the area. While the older plan might have been too much at once, the Assembly is now in a position to support action, Powell said.

"There probably wasn't enough process (before), but it's overdue now," he said. "I think we're comfortable now with the general direction."

Koelsch asked for flexibility in the new plan. If bus shelters are included, they should not be permanent, he said. The idea is to have something in place for the 2003 cruise season, he said.

"As long as there's a balance between the use of Marine Park and improving the transportation needs in that area," he said. "That area has seen a lot less use as a dock area, due to the fact that it's an inadequate staging area for transportation."

Galligaskins gift shop co-owner Rod Swope said staging improvements in the area will help downtown businesses. Because of logistics, many cruise ships are berthing further down South Franklin Street, resulting in fewer customers in Juneau's historic district, he said.

"It's a very important project to us," he said. "Not only that it gets done, but that it gets done correctly."

Cruise critic Chip Thoma said he didn't object to plans to address congestion in the area. While the city doesn't need to spend millions for a bus plaza and "extravagant deck-over," a second lane for buses could help, he said.

Kirby Day, director of shoreside operations for Princess Cruises and Tours in Alaska, said the industry would support a scaled-down version of original plans. The industry group North West CruiseShip Association soon hopes to begin discussions about long-term port planning in Juneau, he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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