SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Library Location Can't Recreate The Past
By Eric Muench


August 12, 2010
Thursday PM

Ketchikan must make a far reaching decision in the August 24 primary election. Should our needed new library be built in a location favored by the City Council, or should it be forced into a restricted area of downtown?

The impulse to save and revitalize Ketchikan's downtown deserves our respect. Many of us can remember classic small town centers from our younger years, pleasant and social places, without the impersonal atmosphere of today s superstores and fast-food chains. There grocery, hardware, clothing and drug stores, banks, government and doctor s offices, a tavern, restaurant or soda fountain, the library, the church, any or all could be visited in just one trip downtown .

Even though Ketchikan's geography required a long strung-out community in which no place is truly center, our downtown was once something like that. But as a community we have steadily (but perhaps unwittingly) made this charming model increasingly impossible.

We have gone down a different path. We have voted many times over the years to bond ourselves for tens of millions of dollars for new docks to park as many giant cruise ships as possible in front (almost on top) of the downtown. We have voted with our tax dollars to pay the visitor industry to attract as many cruise passengers per day as possible. We have voted with our lease and rental rates to make downtown locations unaffordable to any but jewelry and souvenir businesses. We have decided to devote the former sawmill property to a tourist development. We have denied the local use of Ryus Float, originally dedicated for use by residents and fisher folk, and turned it over to exclusive tourism use. These and other moves have evolved the downtown from a local retail and service center into an industrial-scale tourist trade sector. "Tourist ghetto" may be an unflattering term, but it has brought us the summer employment and sales taxes we were aiming for.

As a result we have voted with our feet, shopping and preferably working elsewhere than downtown. We have voted with backhoes and investment dollars to develop new commercial areas away from downtown. And we have voted with moving vans to shut down or relocate grocery, hardware, clothing, sundries and now even the drug store, much government and most other service providers out of the downtown.

Now those who understandably wish for return to a more charming past are asking us to choose a downtown location for the new library to force us back there and hopefully to "anchor" a change to what was. Like planting a coconut palm in Whale Park to create warmer weather for Ketchikan, it would not work. We have traveled a long way down the path of downtown tourist development, often creating unmeant but real obstacles for other users, and no one has proposed a change of direction. Even the Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Plan concerns itself primarily with improvements for the tourist experience, a worthy goal, but no change of direction.

Meanwhile we need a library location that will benefit the whole community. Our downtown can not provide it. Advocates of a second-rate and inconvenient downtown library location deserve our understanding, but not our vote.

Eric Muench
Ketchikan, AK

About: "A Ketchikanite who remembers when our library was a a crowded roomfull of high stacks and narrow aisles somewhere on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the City Office Building"

Received August 11, 2010 - Published August 12, 2010



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