Alaska's capitol: Plans for a new capitol moving along despite opposition

Issue is complicated by continued efforts to move the capital out of Juneau

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2004

If building a new capitol in Juneau only involved a design competition, the project would be going pretty well.

The capitol design competition spearheaded by Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is moving ahead on schedule. A jury just selected eight architectural firms out of 43 applicants from all over the world. If the competition progresses as planned, Botelho would dedicate the building Jan. 3, 2009, the 50th anniversary of Alaska's statehood.

If only things were that simple.

A group of Kenai Peninsula residents has formed a committee to move the state capital out of Juneau. Two state legislators have proposed a bill that would require a statewide election to approve the costs of building a new legislative hall in Juneau.

Even the architects who entered the second stage of the competition said they are concerned about whether the Alaska Legislature in its 2005 session will approve the funding mechanism suggested by Botelho. The mayor proposed building the $100 million capitol by issuing revenue bonds. The state will rent the building for $6.5 million a year. Juneau will pay for the bonds with the rent.

"We are optimistic about the project. At the same time, we are concerned about all the rumbling of Anchorage and their tricks of coming up with their alternatives," said Gerald Gotschall, whose design team, studioAlaska +1, is one of the eight architectural firms to enter the second stage of the competition.

Botelho said he wasn't surprised by the opposition.

"If building a capitol were so easy, it would have been built a long time ago," he said. Since Alaska became a state in 1959, numerous attempts have been made to build a new capitol, but all have failed.

Botelho said people who oppose the project recognize the fact that once the new capitol is in place, Juneau's status as Alaska's capital will be secured.

But Botelho said this is a project not just for Juneau but for all Alaskans.

Botelho's Capitol Planning Commission has tried to engage all Alaskans in the process.

The design competition was announced in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Seven members of the nine-person jury that reviewed architectural designs are from Anchorage, Seward, Fairbanks, Nome and Juneau. The Capitol Planning Commission creates a Web site, where people can get all the latest news on the competition and send their design ideas to the commission. The final four architectural teams will be required to incorporate these ideas into their design.

Botelho said Alaska needs a new capitol because it is the only state in the nation without a building designed to serve as a capitol.

"The current capitol is not adequate to serve the needs of today's representative government," Botelho said.

The existing capitol, built in 1931, has limited room for public galleries and legislative staff offices. The galleries are too small to accommodate all the citizens who want to participate in a hearing.

Maria Gladziszewski, Juneau's special project officer, said "the idea is to build democracy into the building."

Botelho said the timing for the project is perfect.

"We have a governor who supports Juneau and the economy looks good," Botelho said. "We can't afford not to do it."

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

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