The Sawmill Cove Industrial Park is now the Gary Paxton Industrial Park.

The Sitka Assembly approved the name change on Tuesday night (5-27-14).  Paxton served as Sitka city administrator for nine years, and played a key role in obtaining the site for the city.

Mayor Mim McConnell read off a list of Paxton’s accomplishments before the assembly voted.

McCONNELL:  Whereas, Gary Paxton worked diligently and tirelessly for the City and Borough of Sitka as its municipal administrator from August of 1992 to September 2001 and again in 2003; and

Whereas, he served during turbulent times, where he took a financial structure that was in disarray and assembled a first-rate staff and made both highly accountable, going on to win state and national awards; and

Whereas, “Pax” as he is commonly called, demonstrated a natural leadership ability that projected self-confidence, authority and endless enthusiasm that provided stability during the economic crisis of the Alaska Lumber & Pulp mill closure…

“[It is] probably one of the highest compliments that a community can pay to one of its citizens, is to name something for him in his home town,” said Assembly Member Pete Esquiro. Esquiro said that he wondered, however, if the industrial park was the best choice, given that the city might someday sell the property.

“I got to wishing there was something more permanent than an industrial park to give Gary Paxton’s name to,” Esquiro said.

Member Mike Reif, who sponsored the resolution along with McConnell and member Phyllis Hackett, said that the industrial park had been chosen at the suggestion of Paxton’s wife, Debbie. The resolution passed, 7-0.


The Sitka Assembly also voted on Tuesday night to give a small piece of land to the Sitka Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing.

The plot of land is an unmaintained pocket park in the Turney Burkhart Subdivision near Lillian Drive, off Sawmill Creek Road. The SCDC plans to build a single house on the lot, as the first step toward creating a community land trust in Sitka.

Land trusts keep housing affordable by holding ownership of the land; homeowners purchase only the building, and agree to restrictions on the amount they can resell their home for, in return for a lower up-front price.

SCDC board president Randy Hughey said the land trust is on its way to becoming a reality.

“We have momentum, we have a good idea, we are being successful, and if you will give us the Lillian Drive lot, we will put a family in an affordable home there this year,” Hughey said. “And we’re just starting.”

The lot is valued at about $78,000, but under the proposal, the city would sell it to the SCDC for just $1. That gave member Pete Esquiro heartburn. “I am really not in favor of giving away city property for $1,” he said.

Esquiro asked if the nonprofit could instead borrow the $78,000 from the city as an economic development loan.

“That way we don’t set the precedent of giving land away for nothing,” he said. “And we also have a way of recovering that loan if the grand experiment doesn’t work just as everybody expects it to work.”

The ordinance passed 5-1, with Esquiro voting no. Mayor Mim McConnell is the Executive Director of the SCDC. She recused herself from the vote, but testified in favor of the proposal from the audience.

The ordinance will come back before the assembly for a second and final reading next month.


In other business, the assembly authorized a $4.6-million contract with S&S General Contractors to rebuild Edgecumbe Drive over the next two years. And assembly members authorized the city to spend up to $52,000 on an efficiency study, to come up with recommendations to streamline municipal operations.

You can find more coverage of the Sitka Assembly here.