The Ketchikan City Council decided last week to hold off on a final decision about the fate of the city-run Tongass Historical Museum. Members instead voted to form a committee that will look into all the options, including potentially selling the Centennial Building.
The downtown building needs significant work just to bring it up to code, and in the short term needs a new roof and an upgraded wiring system. The city has plans to conduct the short-term repairs over the next couple of years, but a full renovation could cost up to $8 million.
Until about a year ago, the Centennial Building housed the public library in addition to the museum. The plan had been to convert the entire building into an expanded museum after the library moved. But, soon after the library vacated its space, maintenance issues cropped up.
Several Council members said last week that they want to keep the Centennial Building as a museum, and they all agreed it needed to be updated no matter what. However, several others wanted to look into options.
Marty West: “It’s on a prime piece of real estate. It would be nice to put in in private hands and get the property tax from it. I think there might be some innovative ways to go about having a new museum built. Something adjacent to the Totem Heritage Center that we’ve got now.”
A brand-new building has been estimated to cost up to $9 million.
Council Member DeAnn Karlson also wants the committee to consider a seasonal museum – one that operates primarily during the summertime.
While Council Member Dick Coose said he wants to keep the Centennial Building as a museum, he has another option for the committee to look at:
“If we want to get creative, let’s give the building to the Historical Society (and) a million dollars a year and get out of the business,” he said. “They can do it better than we can.”
Council Member Matt Olsen said he wants an appraisal of the building before he would consider selling it or giving it away.
City Manager Karl Amylon told the Council that he would bring back more information about the building for the Council’s next meeting.