The recently painted Ketchikan Performing Arts Center building on Main Street. (Used with permission from PAC.)

The Ketchikan Performing Arts Center building on Main Street. (PAC photo)

Following about an hour of public comment on the topic Thursday, the Ketchikan City Council directed management to talk with various interested parties to find a solution to the Performing Arts Center’s desire for a fully accessible entrance.

Any time anyone suggests removing even a single parking space from Ketchikan’s downtown, there’s going to be opposition. And this time is no exception.

The Performing Arts Center committee plans to renovate the old Fireside Building on Main Street into a community theater space. That historic building was built on a fairly steep hill, and before federal ADA guidelines, so access for people who use wheelchairs or with limited mobility is rather limited.

To address that, developers have come up with a plan to redesign the main entrance, aligning it with the small McCaw public parking lot, and adding a designated handicap parking space.

“We believe and are convinced in talking to architects that we can accomplish quality access with elimination of no more than one parking space,” said Keith Smith, project manager for the Performing Arts Center.

He added that the motion in front of the City Council merely allows city management to explore the idea with the PAC, and any agreement would have to come back to the Council for approval.

Other speakers talked about the need for quality access to the building.

Pat Chapman, whose granddaughter, Jessie, uses a wheelchair, said that steep part of Main Street is not good for people with disabilities. Chapman recalled a time when she, Jessie and the wheelchair almost rolled into Dock Street when they were trying to visit the First City Players office, which is in the Fireside Building.

“I luckily pushed her chair into the wall, and managed to back it down so I could get her into the First City Players,” Chapman said.

In all, six people spoke in favor of moving forward with the Performing Arts Center request. Mike Elerding of Coastal Real Estate, though, strongly opposes the proposal, because it will take away parking space used by his customers.

“We’re not opposed to ADA access to the building,” he said. “We’re just opposed to using the ADA access veil, as it seems, to take public parking that is at a premium in downtown Ketchikan.”

Elerding also read a letter from Ed Zastrow of the local Pioneers of Alaska Igloo, which owns a building next to the Performing Arts Center.

Zastrow writes that he is opposed to the loss of any public parking spaces near the Pioneers building. Zastrow also writes that access to the PAC was provided through the Pioneers unpaved lot in between its building and the PAC. But the PAC decided to end that contract.

During Council discussion of the issue, DeAnn Karlson reminded the Council that the motion would just let the city talk about it, to see if a solution could be found. She introduced the motion to allow negotiations, and it passed 5-2, with Council Members Judy Zenge and Bob Sivertsen voting no.

In other business, the Council decided to not include details about potential rate hikes in two bond propositions that will be up for voter approval in the fall. Council Members were concerned that including the rate hikes on the ballot would scare voters into not approving the bonds, which the city hopes to use for a state matching grant program. That would pay for 70 percent of the costs.

Here is Council Member Marty West, asking whether the matching grant information could also be included on the ballot.

“If we don’t approve these bonds, if we do try to go it alone, that the cost will be exponentially more,” she said. “I don’t know how much you can put on a ballot, to get all that information on there. I just really have concern – your water rates are going to go up, well your water rates are really going to go up if we don’t do it.”

City Manager Karl Amylon didn’t think it would work well to add all that information to the ballot. He said he doesn’t recommend including the rate increases on the ballot, either.

“In my professional opinion, leaving the language as it’s been drafted on the increases, you’re tying one hand behind our backs before we even get started,” he said.

Amylon said an informational campaign before the election would provide the details voters need to make a decision.

The bonds would provide up to $10 million for water and wastewater pipe replacements. City officials say the existing pipes are old and falling apart. If the entire $10 million in bonds is spent, wastewater rates could rise by 14 percent, and water rates could go up by 11 percent.

The Council voted 5-2 to not add the rate increase language to the ballot proposition, with Council Members Dick Coose and Matt Olsen dissenting. Amylon said he’ll bring back a plan for getting information to the public.

Also Thursday, the Council approved the city’s community priority list, which is sent to elected officials in Juneau for state funding consideration.

The list includes funds for Hole-in-the-Wall and Thomas Basin harbors; water and sewer main replacements for various roads; and replacement of the viaduct at Sayles and Gorge streets. The Swan Lake Hydroelectric Dam expansion project likely will be added to the list in the top position.