The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

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By STEVEN WEBER
Valdez Star 

Future of building housing Old Town Valdez's exhibit creates headache

Frustration boils over in what some say is lack of communication from city hall

 

September 19, 2018

Steven Weber photo

The museum annex is located inside the old yellow warehouse on the road towards the City Dock – and Valdez officials are in a quandary about the aging structure's future.

What should the city do with the yellow warehouse near the old city dock?

City Council held a work session on Phase 2 of the Kelsey Dock re-development earlier this month – and the old building where the museum annex resides loomed large in the conversation.

Elected officials and members of the public later said they were surprised by the presentation – which presented council with three options for new development – and many walked away believing that communication between city hall and those with a dog in the fight is poor.

Brian Meissner, Principal at ECI Hyer Inc., started the work session after the mayor, Jeremy O'Neil, called it to order.

"About a year ago we were looking at how to master plan the site for the Kelsey Plaza interpretive center," Meissner said. "One of the ideas we had a year ago was that the yellow building would go away and be replaced by a big green space and amphitheater."

The warehouse is used for storage needs for the city's Parks & Rec Department, and is also the annex for the Valdez Museum and Historical Archives, and is the current home of the Old Town exhibit.

"One of the main things we want to walk away with today is what do we want to do with that building?" Meissner said.

Darren Reese was the first member of the Council to speak after Meissner's presentation.

"The understanding was the museum was not going to move and it was going to stay in place but part of them staying in place was we were going to cut it back on both ends," Reese said. "If we are suddenly changing directions, that is fine but I think there are a lot of people up here that are surprised at what we see again."

Lon Needles echoed many of the concerns presented by Reese.

"This area is for Valdez. This isn't for cruise ships. That's just icing on the cake. This has to be done properly," Needles said. "We need to make this so the residents of Valdez have a nice events area to the very best of our ability. Those plans up there don't quite cut it."

Council member Chris Moulton spoke next about why he could not support the plans.

"I'm not sure you are going to get me to come away with an A, B, or C vote tonight. We can't vote but you know, head nod - having only a few days to digest this," Moulton said. "The price tag is a little shocking to be honest."

Council member Jim Shirrell took a slightly different approach for why he could not support the plans presented to him.

"I thought that the goal was to talk out in the community and start to get some feedback from the community as to how they would see this being developed," he said. "I know I haven't been spoken to nor have I seen any notices that suggest that. So I'm wondering who is doing all the planning here?"

O'Neil, who was not in office during the initial planning, responded to Shirrell's questions.

"In the spirit of Jim's ask, is there value in coming up with a work session or a community solicitation or have we already walked down that path?" he asked.

Nathan Duval, Capital Facilities Director responded to O'Neil.

"We have discussed this on a number of forums. Most of them being work sessions which are open to the public. That's the means by which I gather my information. I work for the city manager who takes direction from you - who are the voice of the people," Duval said. "I'm at somewhat of a loss because we've talked about this multiple times in this similar venue. As a council, you tell me jump and I say how high?"

Discussion quickly came from Council about whether or not the community, outside of staff, is represented in the planning.

"There's an element that feels they are not aware of the decisions. Their voice is not being heard," Shirrell said.

Moulton soon after posed a key question to the city's management.

"Who is going to drive the public discussions?" he asked.

The city manager, Elke Doom, responded to Moulton.

"We are going to work together to drive these public discussions," she said.

How this would be done specifically was not clear as surveys, public meetings and a potential task force were all brought up as ways to engage the residents of Valdez.

After council was done putting forth their questions and opinions, public comment came next.

Gary Minish, president of the board of directors for the Valdez Museum and Historical Archives, was the first to address Council and provide advice.

"You have to advertise well enough that everyone gets the message, what you are doing and what the plan is to get good solid public opinion," Minish said.

Joe Prax, president of the school board, also weighed in on the conversation.

"I agree with Jim on this. If something came to you at this point and you don't know whether this is recreation, commercial, museum, or what it is but you have proposed designs, the cart is way before the horse," Prax said. "And this is happening with a lot of things in the city."

He also bemoaned what he characterized as a lack of communication between city hall and the rest of the community.

"There's things proposed for the schools, the schools haven't even heard about," he said.

Prax, however, did not provide a specific example of an item proposed for the schools that the schools have not been made aware of but he did provide some additional dialogue about the lack of communication in Valdez.

"There is a communication issue going on," Prax said. "It's not a single person. I'm afraid it's a culture and we are seeing that."

Due to time constraints, the work session had to wrap up so council could move into the regular meeting. The issue about what to do with the yellow building however did not end.

Diane Kinney, retired Ports and Harbor director, took to the podium during public comment on non-agenda items.

"This property is on the waterfront and according to City Code, Ports and Harbor Commission is responsible for the development of waterfront property, so the Ports and Harbor commission should, in my opinion, be leading this discussion," Kinney said. "We have a commission so let's put them to use."

Prax who commented earlier about how he had no idea the Pringle was being torn down until the de-construction began, also wanted to add in a few more comments about what he noticed.

"There is a culture problem of finding out," Prax said. "The outreach isn't good. I think I'm pretty informed. Lots of these things - no idea until ground is broken."

 

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