Public will have chance to weigh in on proposal to move Juneau City Hall

The City and Borough of Juneau is considering a plan to build a new City Hall on top of the Downtown Transportation Center parking garage. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau is considering a plan to build a new City Hall on top of the Downtown Transportation Center parking garage. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau says it’s outgrown City Hall.

Actually, it says it outgrew the aging building more than 20 years ago, and it spends more than $1 million annually for maintenance and leasing space in nearby office buildings.

Now the city has proposed building a $27 million new City Hall big enough to hold all CBJ operations.

City Manager Rorie Watt laid it out before the Juneau Assembly earlier this week.

The city currently spends $750,000 a year to lease space in other buildings nearby. In his view, that’s not sustainable.

“I’m thinking that Juneau is going to have municipal government for 50 or 100 years, and in my municipal career, I’ve watched us pay rent for 26 and a half years,” Watt said. “It does not make sense to me.”

The city contracted NorthWind Architects last fall to come up with a conceptual design for a new City Hall on top of the Downtown Transportation Center parking garage.

The garage was built in 2009 and was designed to be load-bearing to accommodate future structures.

At various points over the years, proposals have been made to place a new state Capitol on or near the site.

Nothing ever panned out, and Watt said the additional two floors of office space would accommodate all city operations and allow CBJ to maintain its presence in downtown, where buildable land is limited.

A woman crosses Marine Way in front of Juneau City Hall on Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A woman crosses Marine Way in front of Juneau City Hall on Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Assembly member Carole Triem agreed with Watt.

“When it comes to location, my gut instinct is that having City Hall in the core of CBJ downtown … is important visibly as a symbol, especially with the state Capitol right up the hill,” Triem said.

Assembly member Rob Edwardson pushed back at that, pointing out that relocating City Hall elsewhere could improve public engagement.

“20,000 of the 32,000 people in Juneau live out in the valley,” Edwardson said. “Most of our meetings are held in the evening, so it wouldn’t really matter whether they work downtown or not. It would be closer to their homes … which means, again, more accessibility.”

Edwardson also said building a new City Hall will only get more expensive the longer they talk about it.

But there’s still plenty to talk about, like how the city plans to pay for the $26.7 million project. With financing costs factored in, the project could cost an additional $12 million.

NorthWind Architects’s project summary says that selling or leasing the existing City Hall would open up new revenue streams.

But the new building would most likely be financed by bonds, in which case voters will get to decide.

If they want that on the municipal ballot this October, that doesn’t leave a lot of time.

Mayor Beth Weldon directed Watt to “go forth and seek public input.”

Meetings should begin this summer.

Everything from the design and location of the new City Hall to cost and payment plan will be up for public discussion.

You can find more details about the plan, including conceptual designs, here

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