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Paulette Simpson: It’s Groundhog Day on a vote for a new Juneau City Hall


On Sept. 13, 2022, the Juneau Empire published the following opinion piece about building a new city hall in Juneau. One year later, Juneau voters are again being asked to approve a bond proposition to build that same new city hall.  

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For far too long, without first consulting taxpayers, Juneau’s elected officials have poured millions into premature plans for shiny new things.  

Improved quarters for city government may well be necessary.  I simply question the stipulation of building brand new instead of re-purposing surplus square footage, of which Juneau has plenty.

Re-purposing, however, would require an objective, comprehensive inventory of potential locations, an acknowledgement of Juneau’s demographic reality, and an admission that absent a growing population, our local tax base can’t support constructing and maintaining another expensive public building. Rather than conduct that painful “big picture” analysis, city officials instead create distractions and commission spiffy designs. 

It’s been happening for years. 

Unbeknownst to most current Assembly members, who either lived elsewhere or were teenagers at the time, in 2003, Mayor Bruce Botelho convinced the Assembly to spend over $500,000 on an international design competition for a new age 174,000 sq. ft. Capitol to replace the current 96,000 sq. ft. building. 

Juneau would issue municipal bonds to construct this $100 million Capitol on Telephone Hill, which the state would then lease for $7 million annually.  

Four Outside architectural firms were selected and paid to submit designs to the mayor’s Capitol Planning Commission that in 2005 chose the winning proposal from a Santa Monica, CA firm. The design featured an egg-shaped translucent dome with glass wings; renderings suggested the sci-fi dome would dominate and dwarf the downtown historic district. 

“I think the [jury members] have lost their freaking minds,” wrote Rick Tyner in a letter to the editor of the Juneau Empire. “I would rather move the capital to Anchorage than look at one of these eyesores the rest of my life.”

Roundly rejected by the state’s residents, the new capitol was not included in Gov. Frank Murkowski’s budget for fiscal year 2006. 

After the design competition collapsed, the existing capitol’s problems became a critical issue. The modest six-story brick office building, originally built in 1929-30, was out of date and seismically unsound; the masonry was decaying, and moisture had leaked into the walls.  

In 2006, a wise and responsible Legislature began setting aside funds to repair and upgrade the Capitol. Renovation commenced in 2013. By January 2017, the majority of the work had been completed at a cost of around $36 million. The state paid most of the costs and the Juneau Community Foundation contributed about $1 million. Juneau’s Art Deco treasure was saved.

Discussions surrounding the 2005 ($500,000) fiasco focused primarily on the avant-garde design.  Few questioned how the deteriorating old building would be backfilled, or if the structure would be boarded up or torn down once the new Capitol was built. 

The “Juneau 2006 Economic Overview” had warned that Juneau’s public-school enrollment had declined to its lowest level since 1992 and that Juneau had, “at least temporarily – stopped growing.”  And this, exactly, is what is happening now in 2022 as city mothers and fathers promote the construction of a new City Hall while our tax base continues to shrink.

Arguing for its construction, Rich Moniak wrote, “A new City Hall is an investment in democracy” (Juneau Empire, Sept. 2, 2022).  

Comparable hyperbolic claims were made in 2005 when the egg-dome architects cooed that, “The new Capitol Campus encourages democracy,” going so far as to label their creation a “physical manifestation of democracy.” 

The 2005 concept for a new Capitol Campus in Juneau.

The Assembly’s cheerleader in chief for the current project, Wade Bryson, spouts similar blarney, suggesting a new City Hall is the “single largest loudest action that we can take against capital creep.” 

Earth to Wade: Affordable housing, a road, and an attitude of accommodation and hospitality are probably a better bet.

Bryson also declares that “Every aspect of Juneau life will improve by us doing city hall correctly.”

So, if we gift government grand new quarters, will Juneau magically become more affordable, taxes go down, and the dump no longer stink?

In 2005, Gov. Frank Murkowski spared Juneau a 96,000 sq. ft. vacancy at the corner of 4th and Main. 

Now, 18 years later, City leaders continue to delight in new designs while school enrollments drop. Juneau voters get the final say on a new city hall when we vote on Proposition No. 1 in our Vote-by-Mail election occurring now through October 3.  

Paulette Simpson is a resident of Douglas.



  1. I remember twice voting to move the Capital from Juneau to Willow. It never happened. Perhaps this is an idea that deserves a similar fate.

  2. Well said. They also forced Thunder Mountain High School down our throats after at least two failed votes. The city’s demographics continue to shift towards a more elderly population, as was predicted by state demographers for many years prior to the TMHS build. We were told that Marie Drake couldn’t be renovated and used as part of the High School campus. We were told it would likely be condemned. Then after they got the new high school, Marie Drake suddenly became useful for other purposes – it was safe after all! CBJ leadership needs to stop dispensing the capital-spending koolaid. Fix what we’ve got. Maybe find another office building and buy it! But stop forcing this stuff on us when the population clearly disagrees.

  3. “A new City Hall is an investment in democracy”… umm, how about an investment in bureaucracy… and new taxes. The cheapest car to drive is the one you already own.

  4. Build baby, build! Never mind the naysayers, higher property taxes and damn the budget, it’s for the Juneau city assembly and Mayor. Don’t let the Anchorage Politburo hear about how Juneau is proposing a new city hall for themselves. They might get a wild hair and want to build a new city hall to replace the Hill Building (circa 1962).

    Even if we (taxpayers)spent $12,931,582 to complete city hall renovations on December 15, 1993. ‘

    That amount is $27,476,345.30 in today’s dollars. That was then, this is now. Stranger things have happened with this current Anchorage assembly.

  5. So here we are a year later and Paulette is still spot on. The people need to get out and vote no on the City Hall, the timing for the expenditure is just not right. Its been suggested many times to repurpose JD High into the City Hall due to our declining student numbers. There is parking, the JACC effort could utilize the auditorium…it just makes sense to go that direction.

  6. As usual, Paulette has boiled it all down to an understandable solution to a problem affecting us all. The time is now for all of us to get off our collective butts and get out and vote in this municipal election. If you don’t, you get the governance that the ones that do want. It’s up to you to either put up or shut up.

    • As I understand it…
      The CBJ purchased the property in October 2022. The property which was being sold by the original Family Practice partners had been for sale for apparently several years but there were no takers at the price they wanted to sell for, until the BRH Board decided they wanted it. The current tenants apparently had little to no desire to purchase it, or couldn’t get the capital necessary. The building apparently is said to be in need of remodeling for some reason (which may include installing electric car chargers). BRH wanted to acquire the property so they would have a location outside of the Salmon Creek area for clinical type sevices in order to compete or hold their own against SEARHC which has been a monster in buying up properties and medical practice(s) locally using Federal monies. Maddeningly, the Family Practice property, a 2.3 million dollar (CBJ Assessment) property is now off the tax rolls.

  7. Spending unwisely seems to be a habit. Does anyone remember when the city dredged the floatpond at the airoprt to expand the ramp area on the east side? There was a building designed for the new state of the art airport maintenance facility. It included over a million in underground ground source heat pump plumbing , all of which was installed and going to waste under the new east ramp. Yep, thats right it was never used because the facility was relocated to the west end ramp.
    On a similar note when Merrill Sanford was on the radio answering questions about the city several years ago , I called in to try to understand why a 12 million dollar bond was being issued for a 7 million dollar repair to Floyd Dryden and Auke Bay schools. The answer was that about a million went to the architect and the rest was insurance against cost overruns. What happened to the leftover millions if there were no overuns? It went into the general fund! Unbelievable!


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