SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Library Site
By Suzan Thompson


June 15, 2010

Editor, Sitnews:

Being old enough to remember when the downtown core was a thriving, vibrant business and residential district, and having a lot of nostalgia for the days when there were about fifty little mom-and-pop businesses down there which were open all year long, I was one of those people who really wanted to see the library stay downtown. However, after having been to almost all the meetings where the location of the library was a topic of discussion, and having listened to all the public comment and all the pros and cons, even I am finally convinced that the Copper Ridge site is the better choice.

The constant refrain of, "But the Copper Ridge site is in a rock pit and it's ugly" doesn't carry much weight. Half the commercial and residential areas on this island were blasted out of rock pits. They look just fine now and if you weren't here when they were new, you'd never know how they started. Businesses have a vested financial interest in making their neighborhoods look safe and welcoming. The Copper Ridge site will be beautifully landscaped, it will be designed so that buses can pick up and drop off people from sheltered areas right in front of the building, and it will be accessible to those who have trouble with the lack of parking and summer congestion at the current site.

The other refrain, "But it's across the street from the jail!" also carries little weight. The present library used to be across the street from the jail, too. The jail was in the Federal Building. Creek Street hadn't been gentrified at that time and it had a terrible reputation. Many of the buildings in the area were dilapidated and unattractive. Ironically, we now have people fighting to keep the library in the same place that caused so much angst forty-some years ago, and they are using the very same arguments to object to the new site. These merchants weren't forming committees to protect the citizenry when the proposed new pool was slated to be built in that neighborhood. The rec center, a remodeled junior high school, two elementary schools, and a preschool went in up near the jail, and those seemed to be okay as well. That's because the jail is not really an issue. The issue is money.

This is not even a criticism; we all know the bottom line here is money, and I guess that's understandable. Some downtown merchants are simply convinced that without the library nearby, their businesses are destined to fail. I don't think that's the case. There are many people who use the library regularly who never set foot in the shops. There are many shoppers who have favorite downtown stores who rarely go to the library. There are also people who occasionally combine a trip to the library with making a purchase nearby, but to charge local library patrons with the task of keeping the downtown from dying is quite a burden to place on them.

The downtown really started fading when our small locally-owned stores disappeared. The library was standing right there, in constant use seven days a week, and that didn't save the downtown core from being boarded up half the year. The culprits were escalating rents which locals could not afford, but which the seasonal jewelry and curio stores could, along with changing shopping habits and residential preferences. I miss that dime store every day, but sadly, more people preferred to spend their money at Wal-Mart. They preferred to live on the West End or out of the city limits entirely. Many of them avoid the downtown five months of the year, and this impacts library usage as well as shopping. That does not seem likely to change.

The parameters drawn by the ABC committee seem carefully designed to exclude some downtown businesses while benefitting a handful of others, and that is distasteful to me as a shopper who tries to support as many local retailers as possible. I realize that the lines were drawn specifically to require the new library to go up at the top of the Grant Street hill, but it still seems divisive and not at all in the spirit of re-energizing the downtown, which the ABC committee insists is the focus.

I am really puzzled: if our community can have a twelve million dollar library at a cost to taxpayers of about four million dollars, why in the world would a group of retailers try to hold that project hostage? I know they're looking at other ways to revitalize the downtown core, and that's great. I think that's exactly what they should be doing, trying to make the downtown more attractive and interesting to locals year-round. Rather than excluding retailers who are not considered to be "downtown enough", they should be including every retailer from the Lutheran Church to Tatsuda's.

Borough and City residents alike pay property taxes which support the library. If we lose the funding for this library people are either going to be too broke, or too mad, or both, to support businesses which they identify as instrumental in having caused that to happen. The City Council made the best choice in the Copper Ridge site, and we need to focus our energy, creativity, and passion on the next step: designing a wonderful new library of which the entire community can be proud.

Suzan Thompson
Ketchikan, AK

About: Library user and local shopper

Received June 10, 2010 - Published June 15, 2010


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