The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night (4-23-14) unanimously approved the latest design for the renovation of Harrigan Centennial Hall.
The assembly had two options. They could approve a more “basic” renovation, including a new roof, new plumbing and electricity, new bathrooms and a new kitchen. Or they could endorse the architects’ full plan, which includes a new space for the Sitka Historical Museum, larger meeting rooms, and a more ambitious overhaul of the building’s exterior, including new landscaping on the hall’s south side.
At a work session before the assembly’s regular meeting, the building design committee, made up of Sitka residents, joined city staff in unanimously supporting the more ambitious plan.
Committee member Fred Reeder called Centennial Hall the “crown jewel” of Sitka.
“Every Sitkan either gets married here or dies here,” Reeder said, to laughter. “Or does something in this building.”
The city estimates that the full expansion would cost about $16-million, which would come from a combination of outside grants and the commercial passenger excise tax, also known as the cruise ship “head tax.” The city already has over $10-million on hand, and the Alaska House and Senate have both included over $3-million for the project in their proposed capital budgets. The final budget, however, has been held up in last-minute legislative wrangling.
City Finance Director Jay Sweeney said that it’s in the city’s interest to make this project happen, whether or not the state funds materialize.
“If there is one single project that I would step forward as finance director and say that we had to do, and do right, and do the best we could, it would be the centennial building,” he said. “It’s the one place everybody steps foot in.”
Sweeney said that if necessary, the city can borrow from itself – essentially taking money from an existing fund and paying it back over time with future head tax dollars.
“And if it winds up that CPET funds for some unknown reason, are found to be objectionable to be used in this way, then I’ll find you a different way to pay for it,” Sweeney said. “I’m confident that there are multiple avenues to get this funded and it’s the right thing to do.”
In the end, the assembly voted 7-0 to approve the full expansion.